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Earlier this month, Madhya Pradesh chief minister Kamal Nath announced that his government was considering a quota for locals in private sector jobs in the state. Kamal Nath isn’t the first chief minister to make such an announcement. Earlier this year, the Assam government had made similar attempts for reservation in state government jobs, legislative assembly and local bodies for indigenous Assamese people. Such demands have been a central issue in Maharashtra’s polity as well for many decades.

Other states are catching up, and increasingly, manifestoes across party lines have been featuring promises regarding domicile quotas and preferences to locals in jobs. How does the Indian youth view such promises? We analyse data from a national survey of 6122 youngsters (15-34 year olds) across 19 states of the country conducted by the Lokniti research program at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) in 2016 to examine this question.

The survey data shows that nearly two-thirds of respondents (63%) agreed with the following statement – “For jobs in your state priority should be given to people from your state over people from any other state."

But there is regional variation, with the South and the East showing more support for priority given to locals, in comparison to the North and the West-Central region.

While the explicit support for this move in West-Central region (where there have been vocal demands for provisions against outsiders) is low, this region also has a high share of respondents who did not assert any view (no response), suggesting that the silent support for such a move may be higher than the stated support. In contrast, the low support in North India may be attributed to the fact that people from this region tended to be branded as ‘outsiders’ in the rest of the country and tend to lose out the most because of moves to reserve jobs for ‘locals’.

What explains this popular sentiment for provisions for locals? The regionalist concerns of the youth seem to stem from specific concerns about employment. In the survey, respondents were asked how worried they were about jobs and occupation. We find that respondents who felt quite worried about jobs and occupation are slightly more likely to support reservation for locals (69%). Among those who were not worried about jobs at all, a lower proportion (54%) supported reservation for locals. These figures suggest that demand for domicile quotas is driven at least in part by broader economic and job-related anxieties.

While a majority of the youth prioritize locals when it comes to jobs and financial security, this element of regionalism should not be construed as an indicator of prejudice and regional chauvinism. We find that support for reservation for locals seems to be independent of prejudice against outsiders, as evident from other indicators of such prejudice. For instance, the proportion of respondents supporting reservation for locals is almost equivalent among those who have (63%) and do not have (66%) any discomfort in having outsiders as neighbours.

Further, we find no link between regionalism (or salience of regional identity) and support for priority to locals. The survey asked respondents to rank four identities – state, caste, Indian-ess, and religious identity based on their order of importance (or how proud they were about each). The data shows that almost four out of ten respondents ranked their state identity as their first or second most preferred identity. But the proportion of respondents who supported reservation for locals was almost similar across various responses to this question. For instance, 62% of respondents who feel that their regional identity is their primary identity supported provisions for locals in jobs, as opposed to 65% of respondents who feel that it is their least salient identity.

Our analysis suggests that economic concerns are at least partly responsible for the growing demand for domicile quotas apart from prejudice and cultural chauvinism. As India struggles to find a solution to its jobs problem, policymakers should be wary about the accompanying rise in regional chauvinism. The question of regional chauvinism and special provisions for locals has always been a contentious political issue. If successive governments fail to address the economic concerns of voters, this would remain a key promise for mobilizing voters in elections.

Pranav Gupta is a PhD student at the University of California, Berkeley, and Dishil Shrimankar is lecturer in comparative politics at the University of Nottingham.

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