India is admittedly a melting pot. People’s distress is finding several manifestations in a season of despondence, disappointments and discontentment. A collection of young and aspiring job-seekers blocked rail services in Mumbai Tuesday in a major protest against failure of the railways to see through the recruitment process. They blocked the rail services for only a few hours, but immense damage to city life was, however, done. A train blockade at peak morning hours from 7am virtually paralyses the functioning of the teeming metropolis, with offices reporting thin attendance. Nearly five million commuters were badly hit. Its effect on the economy cannot be understated. Worse, this happened a day after cab aggregators and app-run taxi services held a strike in the metropolis, largely disrupting life. A question that may normally arise is, what has brought the situation to such a pass.
Just a week ago, a large number of farmers from rural Maharashtra had converged on Mumbai to press demands like farm pension and writing off of loans. Granted that it could not have been purely political even if it was organised by the CPI(M) peasants’ organisation (Kisan Sabha). CPI(M) has barely any presence in that state. Instead of waiving it off as another political rally, the system would do better to realise that the protest brought forth the reigning distress among the farming community across not only Maharashtra but the whole nation. They are not getting remunerative prices, farming is increasingly turning into a losing proposition with fluctuating prices, and large numbers are trapped in unpaid debts after they took loans for agricultural operations. Many had to commit suicide. What these go to show is that distress is a common factor with the poor and disadvantaged sections of the society across the spectrum. It also highlights the situation, which all of us need beware, that food may not be an assured luxury for Indians of all economic classes very soon!
The job-seeking youths’ protest was held under the banner of the All India Act Apprentice Association (AAAAA). They carried with them no political flag. Their demand was to expedite recruitments in railways, give 100 per cent jobs to apprentices instead of the present 20 per cent, and jobs in all states for “local” candidates who cleared the All India Railway Act Apprentice Exams. They say there has been no recruitment in the last four years – precisely the very period that the Modi government has been in power. Railway minister Piyush Goyal says the Railway Board is currently in the process of recruiting about a lakh personnel for Group C and Group D posts, with March 31 as application deadline. Still, the point to note is that the situation was brought to such an alarming pass by inaction rather than action on the part of the railway authorities and the government. This must be viewed in the context of a statement that a million jobs/work opportunities could be created by the Railways in a matter of 12 months. Question is, what was the government waiting for during the past four years.
It by now is no secret that the nation is caught in a state of crippling paralysis across all sectors of life and activity. It’s common knowledge that the Indian Railway is incapable of performing miracles. A minister has changed, the Railway budget got integrated with the main budget leading to more of complications and less of powers to the railway ministry, and hardly a few new train services have been started in successive budget announcements. True, the Railways remained in a shambles for the past few decades, but question also arises as to what this government has done to reverse the scenario. A bullet train project between Mumbai and Ahmedabad is all what has been trumpeted so far, while this also is just in the initial stages of work. Train speeds remain abysmally low, passenger services have worsened and travel satisfaction is at devil’s depth. Trains rarely start on time, or run as per schedule. The youth of this country is unwilling to swallow the drama of blaming the past for present inaction anymore now.
People expect a faster pace of action from government. More so as other nations are progressing by leaps and bounds, while India remains where it was in most respects other than in the growth of the population and fall in economic activities. These are movements, no doubt, but in which direction is difficult to say. Modi promised four crore jobs when he ran for the PM post. He will be called upon to account for such promises, as he heads for the next General Elections. The sooner he puts the house in order, the better for the nation. But does he have the time? It is a question getting shriller by the day.