India has an unrivalled youth demographic: 65 per cent of its population is 35 or under, and half the country’s population of 1.25 billion people is under 25 years of age…The number of 18- to 23-year-olds who could not only shape the 2014 elections, but future ones too is 150 million… They have become increasingly disillusioned with the incumbent Congress Government, which has been discredited by continuous corruption scandals and an economy lagging under its watch…The issues that most concern the young voter revolve around better employment opportunities, the containment of price rises, and corruption…
Of the Indian electorate going to the polls over the next few weeks, 150 million 18- to 23-year-olds will qualify to vote for the first time. Their number equates to the voting population of several European countries put together. Understandably then, India’s youth are being given the moniker of game-changers in the elections. Who are these young voters, and how are they likely to change the game?
India has an unrivalled youth demographic: 65 per cent of its population is 35 or under, and half the country’s population of 1.25 billion people is under 25 years of age. According to the Election Commission of India, as of 1 January 2014, more than 42,000 voters between the ages of 18 and 19 were registered, on average, in each of the 542 parliamentary constituencies. In percentage terms, this comprises of 14 per cent of eligible voters.
Of all India’s voter categories the young are the most aspirational; the most impatient. Migration of youngsters from rural to urban areas in search of employment has been accelerating, with the rural population decreasing from 82.1 per cent in 1960 to 69.9 per cent in 2010. During the same period, urbanised parts of the country increased from 17.9 per cent of the population to 30.1 per cent.
In cities, the youth are leading the call for change, such as in the protests that caught both the nation and the world’s imagination after the brutal Delhi gang rape in December 2012. The issues that most concern the young voter revolve around better employment opportunities, the containment of price rises, and corruption. They have become increasingly disillusioned with the incumbent Congress Government, which has been discredited by continuous corruption scandals and an economy lagging under its watch.
India’s current young adults grew up after the 1991 liberalisation of the Indian economy, as ushered in by India’s current prime minister Manmohan Singh, who was then finance minister. They have been the only generation in the 67-year history of India to come of age in an atmosphere of unabated optimism because of continued growth. This national narrative received a deafening blow in 2011, with a recession that hit India after 20 years of growth. And the dreams, of this generation in particular, were shattered.
Disillusionment with the ruling Government crept in, and ever since the anger, restlessness and frustration have been growing. This disaffection will steer the young voter towards the BJP – the Hindu nationalist party led by the controversial and polarising but pro-business leader Narendra Modi.
Modi’s open ambition to be Prime Minister, in an age of personality politics, is turning the parliamentary elections into one redolent of a presidential style. He was voted in three times as the Chief Minister of India’s western State of Gujarat, and is lauded for making it the most investment-friendly state in India. However, Modi also carries the scourge of Hindu-Muslim riots that happened in his state in 2002, to which his administration is alleged to have turned a blind eye. But for the young voter this was arguably too long ago, and they were too young to have registered this impressionably in a way that would disqualify the BJP and Modi as a viable choice for prime minister.
The Aam Aadmi party (or common man’s party), the new entrant in Indian politics, garnered much support among India’s urban youth when it emerged on the scene last year. But after the party won and then relinquished governing powers in Delhi, the more educated, young, urban Indian became disillusioned. Left with no other better option, a good number of them are now shifting their support to the BJP. The outcome of this election, in no small way, will make the voice of young India heard. The winning party must be mindful of this when executing their mandates because, if not this time, India’s youth have the numbers to upset the applecart come the next general election. A Government that disenfranchises the youth will pay dearly.
• This article was amended on 8 April 2014 to clarify that 150 million voters will be eligible to vote for the first time.
– The Guardian: Note to India’s leaders: your 150m young people are calling for change