Why the students’ agitation against RRB NTPC in Bihar and UP is more than just Modi's fault?

Why the students’ agitation against RRB NTPC in Bihar and UP is more than just Modi’s fault?

Youth & Campus

Students protesting alleged discrepancies in the published results of the Non-Technical Popular Categories (NTPC) recruitment tests conducted by the Railway Recruitment Board (RRB) of the Ministry of Railways have created a political whirlwind in Bihar and parts of poll-bound Uttar Pradesh. The students’ agitation against RRB NTPC reached a peak on January 26th 2021, when they carried out a rail blockade in several parts of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh due to which the police unleashed ghastly violence, injuring many protesters.

The students’ agitation against RRB NTPC didn’t start suddenly. It’s a result of the pent-up anger against the rising unemployment in India under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s stewardship and a manifestation of the youth’s frustration. The students who are enraged by the RRB NTPC results are accusing the government-owned carrier of playing with their future and are demanding the roll-back of the new examination system.

What sparked the students’ agitation against RRB NTPC?

On February 28th 2019, the RRB published the “Centralised Employment Notice No. Cen 01/2019 For Non Technical Popular Categories (NTPC) Graduate & Under Graduate Posts” on its website inviting the candidates to register themselves for the computer-based tests (CBTs) to be held in two phases. The registration was open from March 1st to March 31st 2019, amid the peak of the Lok Sabha election canvassing.

Modi, who has been repeatedly accused by the Opposition of intensifying India’s unemployment crisis, faced a very hard challenge regarding job creation during his first election as an incumbent prime minister in 2019. Reports showed that India’s unemployment reached a four-decade high at 6.1% in 2018-19, which also caused nearly 19m people to apply for 63,000 railway openings in 2018.

Amid this din, in January 2019, the Modi regime announced an additional 230,000 new vacancies along with the ongoing recruitment drive. It also announced that the 10% reservation quota provided to upper-caste Hindus under the economically-weaker sections (EWS), which was introduced by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to woo its traditional vote bank through the 103rd constitutional amendment, will be also applicable in this recruitment.

The government initially declared that the first phase of its hiring will start from March 2019 and will end by April-May 2020 and the second phase shall start by May-June 2020 and end by July-August 2021. Former rail minister Piyush Goyal had estimated that the recruitment drive will employ 400,000 people by 2021. Though this was far less than the 10m employment Modi promised in 2013, the announcement was crucial to wean away the disenchanted unemployed youth, especially of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, from the Opposition’s fold by using the employment opportunities in the Indian Railways as a bait.

The exam schedule for candidates whose applications were accepted by the RRB was published on December 17th 2020 and it was declared that the CBT 1 shall be organised in phases due to the COVID-19 guidelines and the 12.5m applicants will have to appear for it accordingly at pre-designated centres.

The CBT 1 results were declared on January 14th 2022, which triggered anger as several students found themselves unqualified, while many got featured twice in the list. It’s alleged that as the RRB has combined the graduate and undergraduate pools, many graduates got an upper hand against the undergraduates.

It’s alleged that many graduate candidates who qualified in the graduate posts also qualified in the undergraduate segment, while many undergraduates were rendered unqualified. Moreover, many graduates, who didn’t qualify for the graduate posts, have allegedly qualified for the undergraduate posts. This has irked the undergraduate candidates.

The protesting students have demanded that the RRB discard the test results and the two-phase CBTs and revert to the old method of a single test. Several participants of the students’ agitation against RRB NTPC are claiming that there was no mention of two CBTs in the notification of 2019. The RRB has rejected these claims stating that its 2019 notice, cited above, clearly stated that there will be two CBTs and candidates who qualify in CBT 1 will be shortlisted for CBT 2.

The students’ agitation against RRB NTPC and subsequent police atrocities

As a part of the students’ agitation against RRB NTPC, the railway traffic was blockaded on the New Delhi-Howrah route in Gaya and other places. Similarly, protesting students blockaded railway traffic in Allahabad (Prayagraj). The police unleashed barbaric terror on the students, especially in BJP-ruled Uttar Pradesh.

Though the Uttar Pradesh Police have suspended six policemen after a video surfaced on social media showing them brutally thrashing students after barging into a lodge, the government has been threatening the participants of the students’ agitation against RRB NTPC with dire consequences.

Nearly 1,000 “unknown” people have been named in the police report of Uttar Pradesh, which has given the police a leeway to arrest and persecute any student by accusing them of participating in vandalism. The students haven’t rioted at the beginning and as per reports, the violence erupted following the police’s brutal baton charge on protesters who blocked the railway tracks.

In Bihar, where the students’ agitation against RRB NTPC is continuing for days now, the police have booked several coaching institutions along with a famous YouTube vlogger known as “Khan Chacha” for inciting riots.

What is the reason behind this fiasco?

The reason behind the students’ agitation against RRB NTPC isn’t the new rule, which has irked the students. The introduction of CBT 1 and CBT 2 wouldn’t have affected the students much if the RRB had communicated the new system in a better way before starting its recruitment drive.

The combination of undergraduate and graduate pools, which should have been separate, has complicated the issue and created a rift within the applicants. The millions of students who have appeared in the RRB with the hope of landing a job are now in a very gloomy phase of their career due to this sudden coupling.

However, this coupling of the applicants isn’t the principal cause behind such a massive students’ agitation against RRB NTPC. The principal cause is the fact that nearly 12.5m to 15m applicants applied for these jobs. The advertisement of February 28th 2019 was for 35,277 total vacancies out of which 10,628 were undergraduate vacancies and 24,649 were graduate-level vacancies.

Why millions have been applying for a few thousand vacancies? Why are graduates and undergraduates bitterly fighting for the same position? Behind this fiasco is the growing unemployment due to the lack of employment creation. It was in 2019 that the last time the government’s data showed that unemployment reached a 45-year-high in the financial year (FY) 2017-18. After that, the Modi regime never published authentic data on India’s unemployment scenario.

According to non-government research, conducted by the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), the unemployment rate in January 2022 is 6.7% on a 30-day-basis. The average unemployment rate of the first three quarters of FY 2021-22 is 8.19%, which is quite higher than 6.1% in FY 2017-18 over which a ruckus was created during the 2019 elections.

However, apart from paying occasional lip service to the unemployment crisis under Modi’s rule, the Opposition doesn’t work on building any major mass movements over the issue of unemployment. Though the issue has affected most poor people in India, the mainstream political forces only criticise the Modi regime vaguely and provide no real meaningful explanation or solution to the problem but merely promise jobs during election canvassing.

Can the unemployment crisis that led to the students’ agitation against RRB NTPC in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh be resolved if the Opposition comes to power? Is it merely Modi’s fault that India is experiencing high unemployment at present?

Unemployment was not created by Modi but worsened under his rule

The unemployment situation in India worsened under Modi’s rule due to his government’s unapologetic corporate appeasement. The government has introduced policies that helped the big corporates amass profits while the small and medium-scale industries and enterprises were effaced. From demonetisation to the roll-out of the Goods and Services Tax (GST), the subsequent anti-people and pro-corporate policies of the Modi regime destroyed India’s micro, small and medium-scale industries (MSMEs).

The destruction of the MSME sector threw many people into the abyss of unemployment while the loss of their incomes led to the fall in demand for industrial goods and services. This led to a vicious cycle of low demand-low supply, rendering more people jobless as businesses started suffering due to an acute low demand crisis from FY 2018-19 onwards.

While the demand fell excessively by the end of the second quarter (Q2) of FY 2019-20, intensifying the unemployment crisis, the Modi regime remained nonchalant. According to the Keynesian economic theory, at the time of low demand, when the supply side also contracts resulting in retrenchment of workers, the government of non-Marxist economies must increase investment in the economy to generate more employment. With more employment, more money circulates in the economy and demand for goods and services grow. To tap the demand, the supply side revamps, thereby providing more employment.

Only the government’s investment can generate massive employment and create new demand in the economy. As the Modi regime continued to live in a denial mode, criticising critics who questioned its commitment to jobs, there was no real investment to boost demand in the economy. Rather, by offering huge tax sops to big corporate houses the Modi regime caused severe losses to the public exchequer, especially after Q3 of FY 2019-20.

During the FY 2020-21, the Coronavirus pandemic had hit India and it intensified India’s economic crisis, throwing millions out of jobs overnight, triggering a reverse migration of workers from cities to the villages. Amid this, the government continued destroying the MSME using the lockdown. The Atmanirbhar Bharat scheme of the Modi regime also overlooked the core crisis of demand and limited itself within the ambit of providing liquidity to a market suffering demand drought instead of financial stimuli to the bottom of the pyramid.

Due to the advent of the neo-liberal economic model, dictated by the US and the western imperialistic bloc, the government’s role as the mover and shaker of the economy has been diminished and the big corporates are presented as employment creators. However, the private capital isn’t an employment generator but is moved by profiteering prospects. Capitalists will refrain from investments during a gloomy situation. Moreover, when there is a demand shortage in the market the capitalists will take less risk.

This article has analysed why the Keynesian economic model can’t resolve the global economic crisis; a quagmire created by global monopoly-finance capitalism in which India also finds itself. At a time when there is such a high demand crunch and the Modi regime has been ignoring the plight of the poor, who are suffering the most due to the high unemployment and soaring inflation, the capitalists aren’t suffering at all.

This article shows how a recent report by Oxfam has found that India’s wealth gap continues to widen, with the top 142 capitalists owning the same wealth as the bottom 552m people. The reason behind this widening wealth gap is the “fictitious capital” creation through speculative trading by big corporate houses, along with Modi’s pro-corporate policies that provide them tax leverages as well as freedom from “bad debts”, which become a liability for India’s common people.

These factors have worsened the unemployment situation under Modi and there is no scope of their radical reversal under any other dispensation—if ever one manages to electorally defeat the BJP—in the future as all political parties are solely dependent on capitalists for their funds and are representatives of one or the other camp of big corporates and their feudal allies.

The way out of the unemployment quagmire

The students’ agitation against RRB NTPC in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh is a result of the growing disenchantment of the youth, who mostly belong to ostracised Dalit, tribal, minority Muslim and backward class Hindus (OBCs) with the current situation. It manifests the frustration of the unemployed youth who are forced to walk in a blind alley by the Modi regime that has no policy for the betterment of the youth.

For a time being the Modi regime and the BJP can use their quintessential vitriolic communal propaganda to polarise the youth and the society. However, due to the growing wealth gap, the growing contradiction between the “haves” and the “have nots”, the realisation of economic realities and the bid to survive in the worst times will make people go against the communal polarisation done so far. This was exhibited by the historic farmers’ movement against Modi’s pro-corporate farm reforms at capital New Delhi’s borders.

Like the farmers, who are most influenced by the feudal system and its appendage communalism, the other toiling sections, from workers to unemployed youth will gradually overcome the barriers and unite on the basis of economic realities against the Modi regime. Such unity will pose a major challenge to the BJP as well as India’s big comprador capitalists.

The students’ agitation against RRB NTPC is one of the horrible outcomes of pro-corporate policies, the neo-liberal economy’s domination. Unemployment is a product of sheer capitalist profiteering. A mere change of a government, without a change in the economic system, can’t make things better. To make things better for the youth, it’s important to create more employment opportunities by revamping and streamlining the public sector. But the tragic reality is that no political party of the mainstream is willing to take these steps, rendering the unemployed youth as human flotsams of the predatory system.

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