LUCKNOW: Everybody wants a “Mulayam Singh Yadav form” at the offices of the Uttar Pradesh Employment Exchange nowadays. The form that these swarms of jobless young men seek is really a registration of their unemployed status; the ticket to an unemployment allowance of Rs 1,000 per month if the Samajwadi Party (SP) comes to power.
Numbers apart, the promise is being taken quite seriously. In his previous avatar as chief minister, Mulayam Singh Yadav had given Rs 500 a month to every one of the state’s registered jobless graduates. The move had cost the government over Rs 500 crore.
A visit to the employment exchange in Lucknow confirms the craze generated by the SP supremo’s populist promise. This office, housed in an old and dilapidated building near Hazratganj, was sleepy and deserted till last month, but is now an overcrowded hive of activity from when it opens at 10 am. “For us, Rs 1,000 is a fair amount,” said Ankit Yadav, standing in a queue with hundreds of others. Reports from Allahabad, Varanasi, Azamgarh and Faizabad and other parts of the state are similarly encouraging for the SP. In eastern Uttar Pradesh, the unemployment registration form is being called Mulayam Wala Foramwa.
Speaking to The Sunday Standard, Principal Secretary (Labour) Shailesh Krishna confirmed a tremendous increase in the registration of jobless youth in the last two months. He said eastern Uttar Pradesh, the least developed part of the state, has recorded a rise of over 200 per cent while the state’s relatively prosperous western region has posted a rise of just 20 per cent.
The dole was a canny move when first implemented by the SP chief, making Uttar Pradesh the only state where unemployed graduates were thus supported by the government. Kerala and Haryana were other states where this unemployment allowance policy was in effect then, but it was limited to very poor among the SC/STs and OBCs. In 2006, three years after Mulayam’s policy took off, six of the state’s then eight lakh unemployed graduates had applied for the allowance.
Mulayam is a staunch follower of socialist leader Ram Manohar Lohia, from whose political philosophy the unemployment allowance comes. This kind of populism didn’t work for the SP in the 2007 elections. But Mulayam hasn’t given up; he has only upped the ante—doubled really—this time around.
And that’s not all. The Samajwadi Party has also committed itself to giving laptops and tablets free of cost to students, a move that is bound to impose a heavy burden on the state exchequer. In Uttar Pradesh, funds are no problem. Chief Minister Mayawati faces scathing criticism from all around for “squandering ” over Rs 10,000 crore on parks, statues and monuments in the name of Dalit idols. This isn’t lost on the SP. Its state president Akhilesh Yadav has said: “When the Bahujan Samaj Party can spend over Rs 10,000 crore on stones and statues, why can’t we spend a good sum for making the career of the youth?”
Does this kind of runaway populism always work? “No,” said Ashutosh Mishra, Reader in the Political Science Department of Lucknow University. “This model of politics is very successful in southern states where elections have been won by showering TV sets, sarees, cheap foodgrains on voters. Mulayam offered sops in 2007 too, but he not win. Mayawati has spent large amounts on populist schemes but the mood of the electorate is not very favourable,” he said.