On the Indian obsession with government jobs

The Indian middle class has existed in relative financial turmoil for the last many decades. They were not poor and they were not rich. So while they were not homeless and destitute, they did have appearances to keep up. Add to this a long list of social and cultural obligations — marriage, parenthood — and you have the perfect recipe for what might be called an obsession with stability.

For a long time, the private sector was not the most lucrative of places. If one came from a business community background — like Marwaris for example — one had a bedrock of support for entrepreneurial ambitions. The rest found stability in the idea of a mai-baap government. The government was everything — law-giver, license-provider, certifying authority — you get the picture.

In the last couple of decades, the middle class Indian has ventured out of the governmental sphere of influence because of economic liberalisation and media-fuelled aspirational mindsets. But the appeal of the “government job” remains strong.

I come from a small town, and I can say from experience that there is no dearth of young people who want nothing more than to grow old behind a sarkaari desk. They want as little work as possible, as much comfort as possible, and as much freedom to not do anything as they can have. Often, this is because they have grown up in a home where government employment was the only thing they knew of and they cannot even imagine employment being anything more than being a babu. Sometimes it is because their families value a steady income and social position above anything else.

Empowerment of the private sector has been a good thing because people have started considering options other than babudom, but every once in a while, when market forces rock the boat and the inherent instability of non-government jobs become apparent, we run back to the safety of government employment.