Young Voters Have Numbers to Set India on New Path

By Katy Daigle

BANGALORE, India (AP) -- What do India's youth want from their politicians? Clean water, universal health care, women's safety, food for all, better education, less corruption, better roads, more investment and above all, more jobs.

In short, they want it all, and they want it fast.

As India begins its weekslong election process Monday, the enormous population of ambitious, tech-savvy and politically engaged youths has great potential to sway the outcome. More than 378 million of India's 814 million eligible voters between 18 and 35, according to census records.

And while the youth vote is a diverse and unpredictable bloc in a country of 1.2 billion people, India's young voters have a world view that in many ways is strikingly different than their parents' and grandparents'. They have grown up in a time of enormous international opportunity, technological innovation and high-speed economic growth.

"Our parents believed you can be happy only with financial security," said Sushant Bangru, a 21-year-old biology major at the Indian Institute of Sciences in Bangalore. "But we know that passion and knowledge is above money. It's about doing what you love to do."

Nowhere is the power of India's youth more clear than amid the bright cafes and technology companies of Bangalore, seen as the economy's beating heart and brain trust. With 63 percent of its population under 25, Bangalore is one of India's youngest cities.

Interviews with dozens of young adults in Bangalore suggest that the most pressing priorities are financial: more jobs and better economic opportunities.

India's once red-hot economic growth has slowed in recent years, after a decade under a coalition led by the Congress party. With many worried about finding work, the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party has honed in on that weak spot, presenting itself as a purely capitalist, pro-business party. Congress, led mostly by the Nehru-Gandhi family since the country's socialist beginnings in 1947, is considered more of a welfare party, mixing capitalist reforms with handouts for the poor.

The main national parties in the running are heavily courting young voters, launching social media campaigns and introducing new candidates from outside traditional political circles. Rank-and-file members of the BJP are up in arms over the party replacing party stalwarts with dozens of untested candidates.

Congress party leaders have reportedly quarreled over letting younger members take more control, even as 43-year-old Gandhi family heir Rahul emerges as the most likely prime ministerial candidate. Despite his youth and dimples, Rahul Gandhi is seen as having failed to connect with many young Indians, instead appearing privileged, aloof and out of touch with everyday Indians.

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© 2014 The Associated Press

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