People who had gathered at the venue of an election rally by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Chandigarh witnessed a novel protest on Tuesday, with a group of activists dressed in graduation robes turning up to sell what they termed as "Modiji ke pakode".
The protesters, however, failed to "sell" much of the fried snack they had brought along. Police personnel at the venue whisked them away before the event could even begin.
The protest was held in response to a controversial remark on employment made by PM Modi in an interview early last year. "If a person selling pakodas earns Rs 200 at the end of the day, will it be considered as employment or not?" he had said, dismissing criticism by opposition parties that the BJP government had failed to fulfil its pre-2014 promise of generating two crore jobs every year.
A video of the incident showed protesters at the rally shouting "Buy pakodas made by engineers" and "BA and LLB pakodas for sale" while being herded into an open police van. One of them, a woman sporting black-rimmed glasses and an Oxford cap, was particularly scathing in her criticism of the central government's achievements. "Modiji has given us new jobs through his unique pakoda employment scheme. That is why we have come to show our appreciation with pakodas. After all, there is no better way for our educated youth to make a living," she was heard saying.
PM Modi was widely criticised for his remark in the months that followed, with opposition parties citing it as proof that the BJP-led government wasn't serious about addressing the country's unemployment problem.
Congress chief Rahul Gandhi said it was sad how PM Modi had come down from launching ambitious schemes such as "Make in India" and "Start-Up India" to advising the country's youth to sell pakodas for a living. Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Tejashwi Yadav, on the other hand, wondered who would be left to eat the snack if every citizen of the country started selling them.
Former Finance Minister P Chidambaram said begging could also be counted as unemployment by the same logic.
A report leaked earlier this year stated that the country's unemployment rate -- 6.1% -- is at its highest since the 1970s. A controversy followed, forcing the government to clarify that the figures cannot be taken at face value because they haven't been verified.
A new report released last month said that 50 lakh people have lost their jobs ever since PM Modi announced an overnight ban on high-value currency in November 2016.
PM Modi was in Chandigarh to support BJP candidate Kirron Kher ahead of voting on Sunday. The results will be declared on May 23.
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