Tejashwi Yadav’s promise of a million govern-ment jobs in Bihar, if elected to power, has brought back focus on a remarkable feature of India’s political economy, as well as social structures and aspirations. Even after three decades of a relati-vely open economy, with a robust private sector, the first priority for young people — in terms of employment — is government jobs. This may be surprising to some, for the elite has begun considering government jobs low-paying and shifted to more lucrative professions. But the fact is that for a majority of India’s graduates, it is the sarkar that remains the object of ambition.
One obvious attraction is the stability and security of tenure. The private sector is seen as unstable where the turns and twists of the business cycle and changing requirements of employers can lead to retrenchment. The government is associated with permanence. The second is pay. Except for a tiny sliver of the population in corporate jobs, the salaries in the private sector are not high and the benefits non-existent. The third factor is social status. Given the respect that the State has commanded, getting a government job is seen as a path of upward mobility and gives opportunities for power projection within one’s family and social circle.
This throws up a challenge for policymaking. The Indian State remains under-staffed and all units of governments can help meet the challenge by filling vacancies. But while expanding State capacity is important, there will never be enough government jobs to match aspirations. Aligning skills, availability of jobs, and ambition are important for both governments and citizens.