CSDS-Lokniti pre-poll survey | In search of a dignified economic life

Over 60% of respondents assert that getting a job has become much more difficult now and 71% of respondents claim that prices have increased considerably in the last five years 

Updated - April 11, 2024 11:04 am IST

Published - April 11, 2024 05:45 am IST

People find it hard to get economically sustainable occupations in big cities, small towns, and even in rural areas. Image for representation. File

People find it hard to get economically sustainable occupations in big cities, small towns, and even in rural areas. Image for representation. File | Photo Credit: AFP

Price rise and unemployment have emerged as serious concerns for a significant majority of Indians. There is a consensus that employment opportunities at all levels have gone down in the last five years. At the same time, the prices of essential commodities continue to increase. The interlinkages between these two issues have affected the ability of a household to maintain its standard of living in the ever-changing economic life of the country. Our Pre-poll survey findings, broadly speaking, underlines four crucial factors in this regard. These factors will have an important role to play in this election, and they will have an impact on the future trajectories of Indian democracy.

First, the employment situation in the country is very critical. Over 60 percent of our respondents assert that getting a job has become much more difficult now (Table 1). The magnitude of unemployment is so alarming that the conventional rural-urban divide has become almost irrelevant.

Also Read: Lokniti CSDS 2024 Lok Sabha elections: a package

Survey data shows that the unemployment crisis is not restricted to any particular spatial location. People find it hard to get economically sustainable occupations in big cities, small towns, and even in rural areas (Table 2). This trend has also affected the gender dimension of employment. It is found that work opportunities have reduced considerably for women. It simply means that the question of economic sustainability is going to emerge as a key political question in future electoral discourse.

Second, price rise has disturbed the everyday economic equilibrium of individual households. The survey findings show that 71 percent of respondents claim that prices have increased considerably in the last five years (Table 3). Although the price rise as a monetary concern has affected all economic classes, the poor, low-income groups, and marginalised rural communities are the worst sufferers in this regard (Table 4). This economic marginalisation of a vast majority of Indians underlines the fact that economic disparity is increasing with an alarming pace.

Third, the growing economic crisis has an interesting social dimension. Table 5 shows that all social groups claim that unemployment and price rise are affecting their economic life. The marginalised social groups (dalits, adivasis and muslims) however, are more vocal than others. In fact, 67% of Muslims assert that finding a job has become very difficult for them. Similarly, Muslims are also comparatively more concerned about the price rise (76%). It shows that the economic questions are interpreted through the prism of social identity at the grassroots level (Table 6). This makes the idea of social justice more comprehensive and meaningful. Poor and marginalised Indian communities desire to have economic sustainability without giving up the idea of social justice.

Finally, our findings also show the relationship between economic hardship and political expectations. We find that a majority of respondents (Table 7) believe that both the Central government and State governments are responsible for shrinking employment opportunities and price rises (Table 8). This perception can be interpreted in two related ways. There is a clear expectation from the State to intervene in the economic life of the country for creating a level playing field for all sections of society. In this sense, the dominant political consensus that the market-driven liberal economy can regulate itself and there is no need for State intervention becomes clearly contested. At the same time, this finding also underscores the limits of what I call charitable State — a State that provides welfare as charity not as a right. Our previous studies have shown that there has been an acceptability for welfare schemes introduced by the different governments in favour of poor and marginalised communities. However, this State charity is not seen as a permanent solution. Instead, there is an assertion that the State should ensure the possibilities of dignified employment. It will be interesting to see how this politics of economic dignity is translated into actual electoral outcomes.

(Hilal Ahmed is Associate professor at Centre for the Study of Developing Societies)

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