ALLEGEDLY Columns

Let them eat JAM

I know a lot of people are disturbed by a report alleging that India’s unemployment rate is at a 45-year high. My message to them: Relax! It’s nonsense.

The only thing anyone can logically infer from this SSO-called survey is that the government doesn’t have the data to show that India’s unemployment rate has been declining steadily since May 2014, before plunging in December 2018 to its lowest ever since the time of Chandragupta Maurya. In other words, this is a data problem, not an employment problem.

The Indian ocean of employment

Just because we don’t have data to show 0% unemployment doesn’t mean that India’s unemployment is not 0%. It only means that the government has been creating so many jobs so quickly that data generation hasn’t kept pace with employment generation. Only an idiot will complain if his government is more focussed on job creation than in recording data about the trillions of jobs that it is creating on a daily basis.

Also, the first sign of high unemployment is social unrest. When was the last time you saw someone protesting, or even waving a black flag at the Prime Minister? On the contrary, people are so happy with the government that they are voluntarily handing over their black underwear, black hankies, and black socks to the police every time they come in proximity to a ministerial convoy.

Look around. Do you see anyone sitting idle? I don’t. Everywhere I look, people are busy on Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, PayTM, Snapchat, Snapdeal, or Snapdragon, toiling 24x7 to make India the world’s largest producer of data.

Add to this the billions of Indians working as Transportation Managers for Ola and Uber, and the billion more working as Senior Delivery Executives for Swiggy, Zomato, Amazon, and Flipkart. You are practically looking at negative unemployment: meaning, not only does every Indian have a job, they actually have two or three jobs each. So, if the NSSO survey was any good, it would have shown India’s unemployment rate to be around minus 200%.

Take someone like me. I already have a day job. But even I do a second shift at night for Netflix, manufacturing trillions of bytes of user-generated data without even taking a salary. Why do I do that? Because I am a hard-working Indian who knows that data is oil and every bit of data that I produce will reduce global oil prices by increasing the supply so that aggregate demand is reduced, thereby enabling our government to help the poor by hiking fuel prices only once a day.

But I am a modest drop in the Indian ocean of employment, though not a drop to be ignored. I am sorry to go public with this but I am really astonished that no one from the NSSO contacted me to ask me if I was employed or not, which goes to show how flawed its methodology is. In my entire working life, I have never been included in any NSSO survey, ever. Isn’t that odd? Not just me, no one in my entire extended family has ever been a part of an NSSO survey. In fact, I know nobody — not one person — who has been asked to fill out a questionnaire by an NSSO team. Now, I am not suggesting that NSSO, like the Abominable Snowman, doesn’t really exist. But clearly, there are enough reasons to view its numbers with suspicion, before dismissing them outright.

Had the NSSO been a truly neutral institution, its unemployment survey would have reached out to the employed as well, to get their side of the story. But it did not. No wonder its report was not approved by the approved approvers.

What truly matters

Also, a major point that’s gotten lost in all the controversy is that job creation is a very minor matter. Any Tom, Dick or Rahul can do that. What’s much more important, and also the biggest achievement of this government, is ensuring that every single Indian has a unique identity, and not just a unique identity, but also a Jan Dhan bank account and mobile number linked to that identity. This innovative focus on the holy trinity of Jan Dhan-Aadhaar-Mobile (JAM) has been praised by Marketing Vishwaguru Sri Kotler-ji as the ‘Not Jobs but JAM’ approach to development.

Contrary to what common sense might tell you, it doesn’t matter whether people have food, jobs, or money. These obsessions are so analog they are practically 19th century. We are in Digital India now. What people need in Digital India are the bare digital necessities for survival in the digital economy: a digital ID, a bank account to digitally convert government cash transfers into insurance premiums and channel them into equity markets, and an Internet connection accessible via mobile phone. This is the JAM that India’s starving millions need today. How can anyone not be grateful to a government that has done more than any of its predecessors to deliver JAM to India’s 99%?

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Printable version | Mar 5, 2021 4:29:12 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/columns/let-them-eat-jam/article26292446.ece

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