17th January 2017
Coming home for the first time
Navjot Singh Sidhu might now describe himself as a “born Congressman” and his joining the Congress as “homecoming”, but he is without doubt driven more by personal ambition than by ideological fervour. After quitting the Bharatiya Janata Party, a constituent of the ruling combine in Punjab led by the Shiromani Akali Dal, Mr. Sidhu explored virtually every political option — floating a new outfit and joining the Aam Aadmi Party — before finally teaming up with the Congress, which was until recently his main rival. He left the BJP and resigned as a Member of Parliament saying he was being asked to stay away from his home State of Punjab by the party leadership. But it was not as if he has been spending a lot of his time since then in Punjab. The cricketer-turned-politician is a television personality as well, and his professional commitments have taken him elsewhere for much of the last few months. No matter how he tries to present his switch of political loyalties, Mr. Sidhu will have a credibility issue tagging him right through his campaign in Punjab. He has been less than entirely honest about his reasons for leaving the BJP, his brief interlude with the AAP, and his new-found love for the Congress. So, instead of harping on peeves such as the treatment he received in the BJP, when he was asked to vacate his Amritsar Lok Sabha seat for Arun Jaitley, Mr. Sidhu may opt to play to his strengths as a star campaigner than portray himself as an administrator-in-waiting.
Mr. Sidhu has his uses as a public speaker to the Congress, but he will be unwilling to limit his role to punchlines and throwaway insults. The AAP did not want to promise to make him its chief ministerial candidate, and similarly the Congress seems reluctant to publicly commit on giving him the post of deputy chief minister (the chief minister’s post is non-negotiable given Captain Amarinder Singh’s status within the party). For a man of his ambitions, Mr. Sidhu could well find himself running too often into conflicts within the Congress, which is never short of regional satraps and middle-rung leaders aspiring to climb to the top. What he brings to the table as a campaigner will be a huge plus for the Congress, but it remains to be seen how big a bite he will want of the post-election pie. But for Mr. Sidhu, as for the Congress, the first task is to get the better of the SAD-BJP combine by capitalising on the anti-incumbency sentiment, and highlighting the agrarian crisis and the drug menace enveloping the State. The post-election fight can wait.
Vagaries of the job market
The mismatch between the number of people who annually reach working age and the availability of jobs has been a matter of constant concern globally during the better part of the period since the global financial crisis of the last decade. The International Labour Organisation’s latest forecast that a few more millions are set to join the pool of the jobless during this year and the next, is in line with its own previous estimates. In any case, with the growth in global gross domestic product registering a six-year low in 2016, expectations of generation of new jobs were always going to be low. But a no-less-serious concern in the ‘World Employment and Social Outlook 2017’ pertains to the stubborn challenge of reducing the extent of vulnerability that currently affects about 42 per cent of the total working population. This concern refers to lack of access to contributory social protection schemes among the self-employed and allied categories, unlike their counterparts in the wage-earning and salaried classes. The former segment accounts for nearly 50 per cent of workers in the emerging economies and 80 per cent in developing countries. The hardships faced by these 1.4 billion working people will become more apparent when seen in the backdrop of either the absence of strong welfare legislation or its effective enforcement in a majority of these countries. It is no surprise that besides Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia has been the most affected by such volatile conditions.
To be sure, the overall share of these vulnerable workers dropped from 46 per cent of total employment in 2015 to 42 per cent in 2016. But the latest report projects only a mere 0.2 percentage point rate of reduction through 2017-18. In comparison, it says the proportion of the population in jobs characterised by vulnerability declined by an average annual rate of 0.5 percentage points in the previous decade. As a result of the relatively slow reversal rates in more recent years, these numbers are projected to increase globally by 11 million a year. The other implication of an increase in the number of people facing vulnerable working conditions is the real danger this poses of a slowdown in reducing the incidence of working poverty. It is this celebrated rise in income levels in the lowest rungs of the population that lent the current phase of globalisation the social and political legitimacy, a phase that has otherwise posed the risks of economic dislocation and unprecedented mass migration. The challenge for policymakers worldwide is to ensure that incomes do not fall below the levels of basic subsistence as the world marches towards the poverty reduction targets under the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.