India’s youth likely to determine election result: analyst

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Worried about their jobs and angry about corruption, Indian voters look set to replace the ruling Congress Party with the Hindu nationalists.

Indian voters, worried about jobs and angry about corruption, look set to turf out the ruling Congress party in the world’s biggest election in favour of the opposition Hindu nationalists under hardliner Narendra Modi.

After 10 years of leftist rule by Congress and the Gandhi family dynasty, surveys show the young and increasingly aspirational electorate yearning for change, frustrated about the country’s direction and irked by higher food prices.

Roughly 814.5 million people are registered to vote, an increase of more than 100 million since the last parliamentary election in 2009, according to Reuters. Of those, more than 378 million eligible voters are between the ages of 18 and 35, according to census records. 

Reuters reports there are 23 million people in the 18 to 19 age bracket alone. A surge in enrolment in this age group means they now constitute 2.88 percent of total voters, against 0.75 percent in 2009. More than half of the country is aged under 25.

Political analyst Dr Pradeep Taneja from the University of Melbourne told SBS young voters are likely to influence the election outcome.

“Young people are impatient for a growing economy, employment,” he said. “Judging by all the opinion polls that the younger demographic are likely to vote for Modi. So it’s possible that he could get a big chunk of that vote.”

Listen: Full interview with Dr Pradeep Taneja, University of Melbourne

Modi, a hawkish three-times chief minister from western Gujarat state, is the son of a tea seller who has risen through the ranks of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to become the leading prime ministerial candidate.

Though tainted by religious riots and often viewed with hostility by Muslims, the right-winger has marketed himself as an economic reformer intent on rebooting the economy and creating jobs.

“For the past six months in every corner of India I have been talking of changing India’s future, development, youth employment and respect for women,” Modi told a rally on Thursday.

Bharatiya Janata Party tipped to win

Pre-election polls – fallible in the past and famously wrong when Congress won in 2004 – show the BJP likely to emerge as the biggest party in the next 543-member parliament following elections that start on Monday.

But it is forecast to fall short of a majority, meaning another coalition will need to be stitched together comprising India’s numerous regional parties led by often populist and mercurial personalities.

The election itself will be the biggest in history as 814 million eligible voters – more than twice the population of the United States – travel to nearly a million polling stations in a staggered process over six weeks.

Narendra Modi: a polarising figure?

While a BJB victory could be a win for the Indian economy, Dr Taneja said a Modi government could lead to further social tensions.

“If the election leads to the victory of the BJB under Narendra Modi, as people are predicting, then it’s likely that it would boost confidence in the Indian economy, investment will return and India’s economic growth could pick up again. And that could be good for the economy.” Dr Taneja told SBS.

“But at the same time, election results could lead to the polarisation of the Indian public – along identity lines and religious lines. It could in fact accentuate some of the social tensions already existing in Indian society. And that can’t be a good thing.

“So it could be good for the economy… but at the same time, Modi is a very polarising figure. And if he were to be prime minister, there’s also a possiblity that there could be polarisation in society also.”

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