The Memes 2019

Return of Sarkari Naukri
Status, Security and Growth

“Data from the successive rounds of nationally representative youth surveys conducted by the Lokniti research programme at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) shows that the attraction of a sarkari naukri (government job) has not shown any signs of declining over the past decade. In fact, the share of youth who prefer a government job has grown slightly to 65% in 2016.”

- Sanjay Kumar, Director, Center for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS)

Week after week Google Trends (an online tool that summarizes pan-India Google search results) reveals the massive and unrelenting interest that Indians have in a sarkari naukri. Searches for government-job related exam dates, exam results, admit cards, and new openings are among the top-most-searched topics every week across India.

Even, or perhaps especially, today when India’s economy has been plagued with ‘jobless growth’, a sarkari naukri is associated with greater stability, high social status, and fewer risks.

Currently, a 10% increase in the Gross Domestic Product results a in less than 1% increase in employment according to the State of Working India 2018 report. It is estimated that roughly one million Indians enter the work force every month but only about ten thousand new jobs are created. Additionally, due to outdated labour laws, Indian employers tend to rely on informal employment defined by temporary contract labour, preventing many young employable citizens from securing permanent jobs, trapping them in a low wage context without a steady stream of income.

In this context government jobs look like a better prospect than ever before. Employee perks and pay packages have been revised based on recommendations by the 7th Pay Commission, with the result that today entry level government employees can expect to be paid as much as their peers in the private sector. Government exams while extremely competitive, offer stable prospects and long term job security.

Culturally the allure of the sarkari naukri as a magnet in the marriage market remains undiminished. MBA’s and startups might make the most noise in select metros, but across the vast majority of India, the sarkari babu is still the ‘big man’ (or bada aadmi) in town.

The introduction of digital technology into the functioning of government offices has helped revamp the image of what was once seen as a sloppy and sluggish sarkari work environment. You only have to compare the archaic, cobweb-laden, government departments of the past to the digitally savvy Central Railways and State Police today to understand why upgraded sarkari departments have retained their appeal among young Indians.

Additionally the growing willingness of government departments to collaborate with the private sector and experts from other fields, and the opening up of lateral entries into the IAS has revived a number of public sector undertakings, making such sarkari naukris viable places for learning and career growth.

However, the fact that at present government jobs are seen as the safer and preferred option for employable Indians, points to the failure of our economy in both creating human capital in our education system, and offering formal employment. The quality of human capital being produced by our abysmal schooling system is largely inadequate – of the 265 lakh children who take the secondary board examinations every year, 105 lakh fail. We also have many people who are technically competent, but do not have soft skills. Emotional intelligence and managing human relationships matter as much as technical skills in a world where machine learning and artificial intelligence are key components of the future.

Informal employment has been the norm for 90% of our labour force for most of independent India’s history. Going forward a reduction in informal employment is the only way to enhance productivity and wages. Until that happens the lure of the sarkari naukri will continue to be powerful. The job security and social status they confer will remain hard to beat for the vast majority of young Indians.