BAREILLY: Ravi Singh Rawat expected to land a white-collar job once he graduated. But the student of economics who spoke fluent English, found jobs were not easy to come by. After three years of futile search, the 24-year-old ended up working in a small motorcycle repair shop in Bareilly's Civil Lines.
""I was one of the brightest in my class but there are no jobs... I don't like doing this, but I have a family to feed. I had to do something," he said, staring at his grease-stained hands and dirty work clothes.
That is the story of many in Uttar Pradesh's Bareilly, the state's seventh-largest city which votes on Wednesday. In 2015, when the Akhilesh Yadav government advertised for 368 peons, it received nearly 23 lakh applications. Every tenth was from a graduate or a post-graduate, and more than 200 aspirants were research scholars.
Tackling unemployment among the educated young men and women has been a challenge that successive governments in state capital Lucknow - including the Samajwadi Party government -- have been unable to face up to.
It is a point the leaders of the BJP - which hadn't been in power in the state for more than 20 years -- have rubbed in over the last few weeks of campaign. In Bareilly, the party is competing with the ruling Samajwadi Party and its ally Congress for the same votebank. BJP candidate Arun Kumar had won the seat in 2012 and hopes to repeat his performance -- his party hopes to benefit from the divided votes.
But the ban on high-value currency notes in November to flush out black money - a move the BJP claims has huge support from the people -- appears to have created some difficulties in small towns like Bareilly. It has further shrunk employment opportunities in a state that is now estimated to have over one crore unemployed people in the 15 to 35 year age group.
Many flourishing businesses in Bareilly - once known for its furniture and woven cots - are on the verge of a collapse. "I haven't been able to source raw-material, can't pay my labourers," said Abdul Rafeek, whose family has been making cots for four generations.
A young furniture labour, Amit Sharma too blames demonetisation for the decline in his income. "We have lost 70% of our business due to the notes ban. There was a time when I didn't have money to buy milk for the house," he says.
A daily wager at a transport company, Raje agrees. "My earnings of Rs 300 have been reduced to Rs 150 all because of demonetisation... There is no work! Where do we go?" he says. "This election is neither on religion, nor on caste. We shall vote only for employment," he says.