MUMBAI: At a run-down job centre in the suburbs of India’s financial capital Mumbai, 27-year-old Mahesh Bhopale dreams of a well-paid government post — just like millions of other young, unemployed graduates.

As the world’s most populous nation readies for general elections that begin April 19, politicians face a sobering reality. India is the fastest-growing major economy, but there are still not enough white-collar jobs for its educated youth.

“Our only way out of this life is to get a government job and get good benefits,” said biology graduate Bhopale. “That will help us get married and start a family.” He has eked out a living in part-time jobs ranging from a tailor’s assistant to a nighttime security guard while cramming for gruelling civil service examinations.

Coming from a farming village to the big city seeking work, Bhopale said he lacked the contacts to push his application in the private sector.

29pc of university graduates were without jobs in 2022

“A government job is the best kind of job,” he said. “Educated people from villages like us can’t get high-paying private sector jobs.” He isn’t alone.

The International Labour Organisation estimates 29 per cent of India’s young university graduates were unemployed in 2022.

That rate is nearly nine times higher than for those without a diploma, who typically find work in low-paid service or construction jobs.

‘Demographically expanding’

Over half of India’s 1.4 billion people are aged under 30, according to government health figures.

“Jobs are not rising as fast as the potential workforce is demographically expanding,” said development economist R. Ramakumar, from Mumbai’s Tata Institute of Social Sciences, noting many of the new jobs being created are in farming.

“That is one reason you see a large number of applicants for a small number of positions in government jobs,” Ramakumar said.

It also explains the “urge of people to go out of India through illegal channels”, seeking jobs in the United States or Canada, he added.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is widely expected to win a third term in the upcoming elections, points to his success in convincing global tech giants like Apple and Dell to set up in India.

But critics say this has not translated into the millions of manufacturing jobs that people demand.

The World Bank warned this month that India — like other South Asian nations — was “not creating enough jobs to keep pace with its rapidly increasing working-age population”.

Franziska Ohnsorge, the bank’s regional chief economist, said South Asia is failing “to fully capitalise on its demographic dividend,” calling it a “missed opportunity.”

Many young Indians say they have no choice but to join the frenetic race for government jobs, prized for their decent pay, benefits and security.

Competition is intense.

State-run Indian Railways, for instance, receives millions of applications for hundreds of thousands of mid or low-level jobs.

Ganesh Gore, 34, said he had tried and failed the civil service exam five times.

“No party or politician helps us out,” said Gore. “They are sitting there to eat money.” In 2022, after the government switched some permanent military jobs to temporary contracts, violent protests erupted, with people setting railway trains on fire. Riskier jobs also find many takers.

Earlier this year, thousands queued to submit applications for jobs in Israel after labour shortages sparked by the Israeli war against Gaza.

India overtook Britain in 2022 to become the world’s fifth-largest economy, and grew at a robust 8.4pc in the October-December quarter, helped by a surging manufacturing sector.

But many young people say they are frustrated by a lack of opportunities.

In December 2023, protestors hurled smoke canisters into parliament while shouting anti-government slogans to highlight unemployment.

Published in Dawn, April 14th, 2024

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