India’s fresh voters seek jobs, harmony

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Al Jazeera :
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 is likely to 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 news agency.

Kumar’s priorities match many of those his age. Religious tensions, inflation and a 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 (BJP) given the government’s strong record of economic growth, amid a sense of pride over the construction of a grand Hindu temple.

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Despite being the world’s fastest growing major economy, India 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 Organization and Institute for Human Development.

Akansha Majumdar, a 20-year-old engineering student in West Bengal, said the 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.

New 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 US State Department raised concerns over the treatment of Muslims and other religious minorities in India. Modi denies discriminating against minorities.