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All about jobs: With 100 million new voters, this might be the most exciting Indian election ever
 
 
 
All about jobs: With 100 million new voters, this might be the most exciting Indian election ever

Old enough to vote for the first time, student Sheeba Shamim, the daughter of a middle class family, and young construction workers sweating on a nearby building site are impatient for a government in India that delivers jobs and hope for the future.


They are among more than 100 million registered new voters, who will cast their ballots when the world's biggest democracy holds a general election that will run from April 7 to May 12. The election comes as India struggles through its longest period of sub-5 percent economic growth since the 1980s. Job growth has slowed and infrastructure projects stalled just as the biggest youth bulge the world has ever seen nears its peak in a country where more than half its 1.2 billion people are aged under 25.


Shamim, a 20-year-old undergraduate in media studies at university in Patna, the capital of Bihar, one of the states that make up India's Hindi speaking heartland, is hungry for change.


"I want India to become the world's biggest economy. I want my country to be at the top. If we get a perfect, strong leader, that day is not far away when we actually get there," Shamim said in a leafy college campus.


In five years, Shamim aims to anchor a national news show. A few hundred metres away, 22-year-old construction worker Ashok Tiwari dreams of becoming a music star. Right now, he earns $3 a day building luxury flats for the newly wealthy in what is one of the world's fastest growing cities.


"There are many issues that require urgent attention. Corruption is the most important of them," Tiwari says. "You have to make sure that jobs don't go to only those who have money and can pay for them."


Having led the country for a decade, octogenarian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is due to retire, leaving behind a Congress Party dogged by graft scandals and pilloried for its poor handling of the economy. India needs far faster economic growth rates than the 4.9 percent expected for the fiscal year that ends on March 31, but it also needs to reduce inflation, currently running just over 8 percent.


Finance Minister P. Chidambaram says economic growth averaging 8 percent is required to generate jobs for the increasing numbers of youth joining the workforce. Some 200 million people will reach working age over the next two decades. How well the next government does on that score will decide whether India will follow China's dynamic growth path or resemble Brazil in the 1980s, politically fragile and poor. Even by the government's own estimates 270 million Indians still live in poverty despite gains made in the past decade.


The ambitions of youngsters like Shamim and Tiwari reflect changes taking place in giant northern states like Bihar and neighbouring Uttar Pradesh, which have a combined population almost that of the United States but have seen their development lag while other regions have flourished.


Semi-urban sprawl and new roads blur boundaries between villages and towns, while migration, new media, mobile phones, and of course television, mean people are more keenly aware of how the lives of others are improving faster than their own.


"Information has been democratised," said Saibal Dasgupta of the Asia Development Research Institute, a think tank in Patna. "Aspirations have no upper limits now. Even provincial India has become inspirational."


 
 
 
 
 
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