NEW DELHI — The Indian government was accused on Thursday of covering up an alarming jobs report that apparently shows the country’s unemployment rate at a 45-year high.
Two economic advisers to the government resigned this week in what was widely viewed as a protest against the country’s leaders, who appeared to be withholding the information from the public.
The report has not been released, but government officials did not deny its existence on Thursday.
The independent Indian newspaper Business Standard published some of the report’s findings on Thursday, including the fact the jobless rate hit 6.1 percent in 2017-18, according to the National Sample Survey Office. Opposition politicians pounced on the news that unemployment was at a 45-year record.
“NoMo Jobs!” Rahul Gandhi, the leader of the Indian National Congress opposition party, wrote on Twitter, adding that the “leaked job creation report card reveals a National Disaster.’’
India is gearing up for national elections (while the date has not been announced, they are likely to be held by early May). Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who hopes to extend his time in power, swept into office in 2014 after a campaign that focused in large part on jobs.
The news on Thursday is unlikely to change the country’s focus on jobs. Employment is expected to be the single most important issue for voters this year, a new Times Now-VMR opinion poll has found.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, center, who once looked unbeatable, is now headed into a close election contest. Any bad news on jobs is likely to hurt him.Manish Swarup/Associated Press
In recent months, the election dynamics have been tightening, and many political analysts say that Mr. Modi, who once looked unbeatable, is now headed into a close contest. Any bad news on employment figures could damage his prospects.
Economists say the unemployment situation worsened in India over the past decade for several reasons: less investment in the rural economy, bad droughts, struggles in the manufacturing sector and the jarring effects of Mr. Modi’s decision in 2016 to suddenly replace most of India’s currency, a move that led to severe cash shortages.
“This buildup has been going on for many years,’’ said Himanshu, an associate professor of economics at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi who goes by only one name. “In fact, Modi came on the promise of providing jobs. But the situation has become worse in his period.”
While Mr. Gandhi, the scion of a long political dynasty, has been hammering the Indian government over its record on employment, Mr. Modi’s ministers were quick to defend the prime minister after the jobs report was leaked.
“This survey focuses mostly, I think, on the organized sector,” Raj Kumar Singh, the energy minister, told the independent broadcaster NDTV. “Our economy is growing at an unprecedented rate. That economy can’t grow without economic activity actually happening.’’
India’s economy has been growing at an annual rate of around 7 percent for several years, among the fastest of any major economy.
According to the Times Now-VMR poll, Mr. Modi remains the most trusted leader in the country. When asked who had the better plans for India, 44.4 percent of respondents chose Mr. Modi, compared with 29.9 percent for Mr. Gandhi.