Following the horrific rape of a toddler, allegedly by a migrant worker, in Sabarkantha district on September 28, there has been an exodus out of northern Gujarat of Hindi-speaking migrant workers . There have been incidents of “revenge attacks” on them. But while the anger among residents on account of the incident might have been the trigger, there could be much more at play. As in other States, Gujarat is seeing increasing discontent over the lack of adequate jobs for young people. This is reflected in multiple surveys, including a recent Ipsos-Gates Foundation survey which found that Indians were most worried about unemployment (48%), among the countries covered. The CMIE’s unemployment rate monthly time series shows that 4.6% of those surveyed and actively looking for work in Gujarat were not employed in September 2018. This is less than the national average (6.8%), but there has been a relative increase in this number since the previous year in Gujarat. Disquiet over lack of job opportunities has bubbled up in the demand for limiting jobs for migrants and in resentment against ‘outsiders’. The Gujarat government, under pressure from the Opposition, has promised to make it mandatory for manufacturing and service sector companies to hire 80% of their workforce from the State’s domiciles and to reserve 25% of hires for residents from the location.
Based on data since 2011, the Economic Survey in 2016-17 pointed out that Gujarat is among the States, including Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and West Bengal, with the highest net in-migration of workers. The study also found that States that were relatively better developed than the rest of the country were also host to more migrants. It stands to reason that migrants have played a vital role in greasing the wheels of growth in States like Gujarat by providing cheap labour in the many small and medium enterprises in the manufacturing and construction sectors. The fact that industry and commerce associations in Gujarat have complained about the flight of migrants, with the festival season looming, reflects the importance of migrant labour in Gujarat. The State must follow a more holistic policy of creating incentives for firms leading to greater employment, instead of merely dictating higher recruitment of locals. Gujarat is no exception. Nativist arguments against migrants have been too easily used by political forces in various States, from more developed ones such as Maharashtra to smaller States such as Meghalaya, to address resentment over the paucity of jobs. This neither serves the interest of the State concerned, considering the economic role of migrant labour, nor addresses the issue of ensuring job-oriented growth. Apart from steps to arrest the violence against the migrants and stop the exodus, the Gujarat government must commit itself to a facilitating role for job-creation.