Fluttering party flags, bikes with party workers shouting slogans and auto rickshaws blaring political songs have taken over the streets in Rajnandgaon, Chhattisgarh, as the town prepares to vote on November 12.
The town where former prime minister and BJP leader Atal Bihari Vajpayee is part of the election campaign for both the BJP and the Congress in the clash of the ABV protégé’s; incumbent chief minister Raman Singh contesting against Congress candidate Karuna Shukla who is ABV’s niece. While Singh is asking voters to judge him on the development of the region, Shukla is questioning corruption, commission and lack of jobs.
One thing that people admit is that the town has some development over the last few years. However, for sitting Raman Singh, a third term from Rajnandgaon town may be a tough fight, mainly because of a sharp rise in unemployment.
Rajnandgaon has seen new flyovers come up to decongest state and national highways passing through the town. A national hockey stadium and two new colleges have been opened in the past years. The town has certainly seen infrastructure development, say locals, but at the same breath add that the quality of development is a question.
“Quality of development is a problem. Whether it is roads or schools, quality is poor,” said a part-time guest faculty in one of the colleges in the town.
“I work as a guest faculty in a college. Don’t have a permanent job, will be removed in 7-8 months. And then will have to keep applying for government jobs, there are very few vacancies and lakhs of students applying for it. It is becoming a money making business. The state government needs to think seriously about this problem now,” he added.
Sushil Kothari, editor of local newspaper
Savera Sanket said, “Unemployment is a big concern in Rajnandgaon and neighboring areas in terms of industries. Since BNC (Bengal Nagpur Cotton Mills) shut down there has been no industry. We have heard promises, the state government did bring solar power company Lanco but even that has shut the shop.”
Some students from Government Digvijay College in the town gathered to share their experiences of seeking jobs. Many stated they had to travel out of the town to seek employment.
Pawan Tiwari, a recent college pass out said, “The state government is distributing mobiles rather than giving jobs. If youth is provided with jobs we can purchase our own mobiles.”
Some do believe the ruling party has made way to develop entrepreneurship through var. The state government is providing mudra loans and many small industries have been started in Rajnandgaon. Shivam Yadav, an unemployed engineer said, “The state government is helping because they realise they cannot give jobs to everyone. There are few jobs and we have to adjust with it,” he said.
Another countered him. “There are over three lakh educated unemployed in Rajnandgaon, please ask how many have been given mudra loans, it is a farce. There are no universities here and colleges like Ashoka College are also on the verge of closing down.”
The opposition party has been quick to latch on to this issue. Karuna Shukla, Congress candidate from Rajnandgaon said, “Raman Singh government made promises of universities and jobs in Rajnandgaon but has not delivered anything. This is going to be one of the biggest agenda that Congress will contest the election on.”
Data from the government sources say that there are 116,636 educated unemployed who have registered with the labour bureau. Locals claim that the region has not seen any employment generation initiative since mills shut down fifteen years ago. However, the administrators claim the status quo is about to change.
Abhishek Singh, BJP MP, Rajnandgaon, said, “We are working on it... Patanjali has signed an MoU with state government to set up a plant... we are also working on clusters like plastics industry and others.”Will these promises garner trust amidst the voters because unemployment is the key issue not only for Rajnandgaon town but also the other five constituencies in the district. While the Rajnandgaon town seat may be a prestige battle for the CM, the remaining five seats are equally important as four were won by Congress in 2013.