WIDER IMAGE-India’s Gen Z voters seek jobs, harmony in world’s biggest election

By Thomson Reuters Apr 17, 2024 | 5:07 AM

KOLKATA/NEW DELHI (Reuters) – For 20-year-old Roushan Kumar, who sells flowers for a living in India’s eastern state of West Bengal, more jobs and better education are priorities. And the first-time voter wants to pick a government that will provide just that.

India’s election starting on Friday is the world’s largest electoral exercise with more than 18 million people voting for the first time.

While polls project Prime Minister Narendra Modi will win a third term, new voters like Kumar are determined to make their voices count.

“I will vote for a party that works for development in education. I will vote for a party that will provide employment – so that there are jobs,” Kumar, a Modi supporter, told Reuters.

Kumar’s priorities match many his age. Rising tensions between religious groups, inflation and lack of jobs were the top concerns emerging from Modi’s decade-long rule, according to a survey of 1,290 first-time voters in New Delhi by pollsters CSDS-Lokniti.

Nearly two-thirds of those polled said they would vote for Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party given the government’s strong record of economic growth, amid a sense of pride over construction of a massive Hindu temple.

Despite world-beating growth, India’s economy has scrambled to generate enough work for its people. Its youth make for most of the nation’s unemployed workforce, according to a report by the International Labour Organisation and Institute for Human Development.

Akansha Majumdar, a 20-year-old engineering student in West Bengal’s said India’s government needs to eradicate illiteracy and provide job security.

To tap into such disenchantment, India’s main opposition Congress has promised paid apprenticeships. Modi’s party manifesto also focuses on creating jobs.

Beyond jobs and rising costs, communal harmony is another priority for many young voters.

Delhi-based laptop repairer Mohammad Aijaz Ansari, 19, said fighting in the “name of religion” is everywhere and should not happen. He will vote for the Aam Aadmi Party, or Common Person’s Party, a Congress ally.

In reports released last year, the U.S. State Department raised concerns over the treatment of Muslims and other religious minorities in India. Modi denies discriminating against minorities.

(Reporting by Sahiba Chawdhary in Kolkata, Priyanshu Singh and Sunil Kataria in New Delhi; Additional reporting and writing by Shivangi Acharya in New Delhi; Editing by Stephen Coates)