No one does hazard a guess as to who will form the next government though indicators after conclusion of seven phases of polling point to Narendra Modi heading it. Let us not get into the question of Modi leher as it is basically subjective and based on perceptions. But this is a determining election in a sense that issues like governance, growth rate, maximum utilization of human resources and taking benefits to the grass roots have occupied the centre stage. For all the focused rhetoric against Modi the fact remains that development in Gujarat has won credit ratings from impartial agencies with even a semi-humorous rider that it must not be misconstrued as pro-Modi. However Gujarat model cannot be and is not a pan-India panacea. In this context it may be worthwhile to see the canvas of issues that the new government will have to address to spur growth and social outreach.
Power scene in the country has been dismally disparate though tariffs have been subsidized in states because it is a people-friendly move. No party is prepared to lose votes on that count because it is an issue that influences voters across party loyalties. Though heavily dependent on coal, oil and gas there have been initiatives in the last decade to tap solar, hydel and non-commercial uses of energy. Coal hogs nearly 50 per cent of the total energy demand followed by oil and natural gas and unconventional energy sources constitute a miniscule percentage of the consumption. The per capita energy consumption in rural households is still low in global comparison because of the fact that they are heavily dependent on firewood, crop residue and cow dung. It is a reflection on their social condition though growing urbanization and social welfare schemes would increase their disposable income and consequently the demand for power. The growth generally has been urban-centric and qualified youth from even poor households move to cities for jobs.
Among unconventional sources solar power has been given a major thrust in which Gujarat has done undoubtedly well through its Public-Private Partnership scheme. (Charanka solar park with its state of art technology and the Narmada canal solar power scheme are often cited in this regard. Rajasthan and Maharashtra too are singled out in this context. ) At present coal, oil and gas constitute over 80 per cent of the total consumption and is heavily dependent on imports as well. Unless solar, hydel and other non-commercial uses are supplemented over a decade it will not reduce the energy cost and therein lies a major bottleneck. Self-reliance in power is tantamount to upgrading India to a major economy globally. The launch of Jawaharlal Nehru Solar Mission, a commendable move, should help increase the quantum of solar power to the grid and also the share of renewable power in general. The Mission is targeting 20000 MW of solar power by 2020 and over 15000 MW of wind power has been installed till now. This will go far in reducing the carbon imprint in line with global standards.
Unemployment has been growing at a steady rate since 2011, according to ILO stats, and is expected to touch 3.8 per cent in 2014. During the UPA tenure informal employment went up since 2011 to nearly 13 plus million though this was apparently in agriculture. But the prickly factor has always been the persisting unemployment among the skilled force in the age group of 18-25. There is a crying necessity to locate/decentralize job generation to rural areas which would be possible only through locating IT and industries in rural areas. This would also stem the migration of farm hands/skilled work force to urban areas and consequently increasing the pressure of settlements there.
Underemployment has been a distinctive feature of growth in all states though the percentages vary in terms of the growth story and population. Yet education linked to skill development cannot be wished away. And skills do go waste if an aspiring youth has to find a job elsewhere other than where he was born and had studied, as counterproductive as brain drain to overseas. Skill development incommensurate with job generation is not an attractive proposition.
Mr. Modi is making the positive vibrations all these months and has a creditable track record, albeit restricted to Gujarat. Whatever the poll outcome, the new government has quite a job on its hand with a restive, aspirational youth demanding its pound of flesh.