The young demography
BJP’s victory proves that using the aspirational message to woo the first-time voters has paid off
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New Delhi: The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s strategy of courting young first-time voters by using the aspirational quotient has paid off. Young voters made a sizeable contribution to the Narendra Modi-led BJP juggernaut that’s returning to power after a gap of 10 years with the biggest mandate any party has won in three decades.
One explanatory narrative of the landslide victory is that rising aspirations that were unmet by the existing institutions fuelled disaffection among the young, who took out their anger in the general election that routed the Congress party, ending its 10-year tenure at the head of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) coalition.
The aspirations for a better life were fuelled by a growing consumer economy and the decline of poverty in both absolute and percentage terms during the UPA’s rule, largely because the economy during its first term grew faster than at in any five-year period in the history of India, expanding at an average annual pace of 8.7%.
Gross domestic product (GDP) growth slowed to 6.7%, in 2011-12 and 4.5% in 2012-13 and is estimated to have come in below 5% in the fiscal year just gone by, partly as a government beleaguered by corruption scandals was gripped by policy paralysis.
It might be too early to attribute the outcome entirely to young voters, according to Gurpreet Mahajan, a teacher of political science at Jawaharlal Nehru University.
“Surely, the young have aspirations and the new voter does care about development as portrayed by the winning candidate; but it is very likely that other factors, like anger against incumbents (at the centre as well as the region) and votes from other groups and communities also had a significant role in the outcome,” Mahajan said.
Across the nation, of the 814.59 million registered to vote in the 16th general election, an estimated 100 million were first-time voters. The record 66.4% poll turnout helped BJP take the lead in 282 of the 543 parliamentary seats, handing the party a majority.
In a demography tilted towards the young—three fifths of India is aged between 15 and 59—campaigns against corruption and violence against women also brought young voters across the nation together. This aided parties in the opposition in many states.
“I voted for Aam Aadmi Party because they seemed to be an honest party, who reduced the dominance of corrupt elements during their rule in Delhi,” said Harender Kumar, 19, who voted for the first time in the general election.
A comparison of the share of youth and seat share for the winning party shows that they have moved together in this election.
All but one of Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi’s A-team lost in the election. The lone exception was Jyotiraditya Scindia, who won his Guna seat in Madhya Pradesh. Young Congress politicians like Milind Deora, Ashok Tanwar, Priya Dutt, Jitin Prasada, R.P.N Singh, Sachin Pilot, Jitendra Singh and Arun Yadav were voted out.
Inflation averaged 6% and 7.6% in the two successive UPA terms and employment generation in the economy averaged 2 million per year even as the economy registered a record average growth rate of nearly 8%—what some experts refer to as jobless growth.
In the last 10 years, the economy generated 15 million jobs even while 14 million were being added to the working age every year.
BJP articulated the job deficit in its manifesto. “The country has been dragged through 10 years of jobless growth by the Congress-led UPA government,” it said.
Stressing the need for the country to benefit from the demographic dividend of a youthful population, the manifesto said, “We will take up skill development on a mission mode, at an unprecedented scale.”
India is home to the world’s largest population of illiterate adults. At 287 million, they form 37% of the total population of such people across the world, according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s Education for All report.
“Given the crucial phase that we are in of India’s demographic dividend, the key now is that the new government delivers on the aspirations of one of the largest and fastest growing youth populations in the world and catalyses a meaningful and long-term up-move in the economy’s GDP growth trajectory,” said Dinesh Thakkar, chairman and managing director at Mumbai-based Angel Broking Ltd.
With the BJP’s campaign projecting Modi as a strong leader who would tackle high inflation and fulfil the aspirations of the youth, the party entered the electoral arena as the odds-on favourite.
A group of social media-savvy and young volunteers waged the party’s campaign online, while the prime ministerial candidate positioned himself as the face of the party everywhere.
The BJP’s manifesto, although it was released on the day voting began, tried to highlight its proposals for youth and women, for example to transform employment exchanges to career centres and start dedicated industrial training institutes for women.
“BJP considers youth as the most productive asset of the nation who have played a key role in taking the country to a near double digit growth. All sectors dominated by youth are doing exceptionally well. India is the oldest civilization but the youngest country and this necessitates that the policies must be based on the judicious mix of experience of energy, and be ‘youth inclusive’, so that youth are an integral part of the development process,” BJP said in its manifesto.
So far the Lok Sabha has not reflected India’s demographic shift. There were 1,504 contestants in the 25-35 year age group for election to the 543-member 15th Lok Sabha. Only 23 won. The average age of lawmakers in the lower House of Parliament increased from 46.5 years in the first Lok Sabha to 55.5 years in the 13th before dipping slightly to 53.03 years in the last legislature.
The Congress party also failed to realise the fallout of increasing crime against women even after the brutal December 2012 gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old student on a Delhi bus triggered unprecedented street protests by angry young people.
That anger contributed to the Congress rout in the Delhi state election.
The BJP manifesto put women’s issues high on the party’s agenda. “Women’s welfare and development will be accorded a high priority at all levels within the government, and BJP is committed to 33% reservation in parliamentary and state assemblies through a constitutional amendment,” it said.