Jobs and rights on young voters' minds for India polls

India's annual GDP growth hit 8.4% in the December quarter, but ILO estimated that 29% of the country's young university graduates were unemployed in 2022

By AFP

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Abhishek Dhotre, a student who will be voting for the first time in India's upcoming general election, poses in front of the Gateway of India, in Mumbai. — AFP
Abhishek Dhotre, a student who will be voting for the first time in India's upcoming general election, poses in front of the Gateway of India, in Mumbai. — AFP

Published: Wed 17 Apr 2024, 1:56 PM

Around 130 million young adults aged 18 to 22 will be newly eligible to vote in India's national elections when polls open Friday — more people than the entire population of Mexico.

AFP asked four first-time voters who were too young to vote in the 2019 elections about who they would support and the issues that mattered to them:


Mumbai university student Abhishek Dhotre, 22, said he was unhappy with "the communal discord that is seen all throughout India" as a result of the government's muscular Hindu nationalism.

With India's economy growing at a breakneck pace, overtaking former colonial ruler Britain as the world's fifth-largest in 2022, Dhotre wants Prime Minister Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to win again.


"With the flow of development, infrastructure and everything that's going on, I would prefer the current government to stay," he told AFP.

Thrishalini Dwaraknath, a computer science student who will be voting for the first time in India's upcoming general election, poses along a street in Chennai.  — AFP
Thrishalini Dwaraknath, a computer science student who will be voting for the first time in India's upcoming general election, poses along a street in Chennai. — AFP

Thrishalini Dwaraknath, 20, epitomises India's economic changes -- she is about to move from Tamil Nadu to the tech hub of Bengaluru, both of them in the south, to work as a software developer.

"I'm excited to be part of the Indian democracy and voicing my opinion for the first time," she told AFP. "And I'm glad that my voice matters."

She praised Modi's government for its achievements in office but said it needed to do more to help millions of unemployed young Indians find work.

India's annual GDP growth hit 8.4 percent in the December quarter, but the International Labour Organization estimated that 29 percent of the country's young university graduates were unemployed in 2022.

"Addressing the skill gap between students and the job market is key," Dwaraknath said.

In this photograph taken on April 5, 2024, Gurpartap Singh, a farmer who will be voting for the first time in India's upcoming general election, poses in front of his wheat field at Chabba village on the outskirts of Amritsar. — AFP
In this photograph taken on April 5, 2024, Gurpartap Singh, a farmer who will be voting for the first time in India's upcoming general election, poses in front of his wheat field at Chabba village on the outskirts of Amritsar. — AFP

One first-time voter who will definitely not be backing the BJP is Gurpartap Singh, 22, a wheat farmer from the northern state of Punjab.

Farmers in Punjab were the backbone of a yearlong protest in 2021 against the Modi government's efforts to bring market reforms into India's agricultural sector.

The reforms were later shelved, marking a rare political defeat for the prime minister, but farmers say their demands have still not been met.

"So many farmers died in the protest," Singh said. "They have not got justice."

Farmers are a significant voting bloc in India -- hundreds of millions of people make their living from the land.

"The government that thinks about the farmers, youth -- that is the government that should come to power," Singh said, adding that the BJP had failed that test.

India's 1.4 billion people encompass a vast range of backgrounds including a transgender community estimated to be several million people strong.

The Hindu faith has many references to a "third gender", and a 2014 Supreme Court ruling said people could be legally recognised as such.

Salma, a social worker who will be voting for the first time in India's upcoming general election, poses outside her house in Varanasi. — AFP
Salma, a social worker who will be voting for the first time in India's upcoming general election, poses outside her house in Varanasi. — AFP

They nonetheless face entrenched stigma and discrimination, and Salma, a transgender Muslim woman from the Hindu holy city of Varanasi, said she did not expect that to change under another BJP government.

"All the time this government has stayed in power, they have done nothing good for us," said Salma, who declined to say who she would vote for.

"We should get equal rights."


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