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Youth will be the important factor in India’s 2019 election

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India has now an unrivalled youth demographic: 65% of the population is 35 or under, and half the country’s population of 1.25 billion people is under 25 years of age. According to the Election Commission of India, as of 1 January 2014, more than 42,000 voters between the ages of 18 and 19 were registered, on average, in each of the 542 parliamentary constituencies. In percentage terms, this comprises of 14% of eligible voters. Which means very roughly, about 150 million 18- to 23-year-olds qualified to vote for the first time. in 2014 election. In 2019, it should be even more. 76% of India’s internet users are under the age of 35 and 42% of them are between 15 and 24 years. And with 18 to 23 years olds making up more than 14% of the electorate the youth vote could be the deciding factor in which way the polls swing.

Of all India’s voter categories, the young are the most aspirational; the most impatient for better living and better prospects. The issue that most concern them is better employment opportunities.

Nationally, Modi had generated enormous support among the young and aspirational for his agenda of development and promotion of a range of transformational initiatives, like Start-Up India, Skill India, Stand-Up India, Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana, Smart Cities mission, AMRUT and so on. However, outcomes in most of these have been indifferent and yet to crystallize and some schemes are yet to get off the ground.

In the meantime, the economy has simply not been able to provide 10 million jobs per annum that Narendra Modi had talked of in his election campaign in 2014.

Students form a very important group among the youth. Their biggest and most legitimate grievance in India is that what they learn after putting so much time, effort and money has very little relevance to the realities of life with which they come face to face after leaving the university; they face joblessness. It is but natural that they feel frustrated and hold the leaders and the party in power responsible.

The youth live in present and look to the future. They are not much aware and concerned as to what happened in the past. They will instead be more evaluating and more critical of the performance of the present government and scrutinizing it in terms of the job and other opportunities it is able to offer.

From 2010 to 2016, India had one of the highest rates of job creation in the organised workspace. Latest payroll data released by the Employees’ Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO) suggests that ‘job creation’ in the country more than doubled to 9.73 lakh in September, 18 compared to 4.11 lakh in the same month last year. This is the highest monthly addition since September 2017, when the government started releasing EPFO data. From September 2017 to September 2018, around 79.48 lakh new subscribers were added to social security schemes of the EPFO. Several economists have doubted such claims of a surge in job growth and much discussion has happened on whether a new enrollment on the EPFO database does indeed reflect creation of a new formal job.

In any case, the general perception is one of utter joblessness because Demonetization and GST have reportedly led to much loss of job in unorganized and SME sectors the jobs debate is mired in claims and counter-claims. Lack of credible data on jobs is a major stumbling block in analysing the Centre’s record on job creation. Earlier, there used to be household surveys conducted by 1) National Sample Survey Organization and 2) Labour Bureau. These two household surveys are in the process of being replaced by the Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS) which will produce annual employment estimates at the national and rural level, and quarterly estimates in urban areas.

Further, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting has written to 10 ministries, including the Labour Ministry, seeking data on employment generated in various sectors under them. This was done about six months ago. Yet, the exercises appear to be still on. It is high time the government completes the exercise and finalizes the report card.

It is also imperative for the government to communicate properly to the youth the addition/ growth generated and being generated in job creation and skill and entrepreneurship development. It should also point to the reforms in the Apprentices Act, fixed-term labour contracts, and subventions in social security contributions to encourage employers to take on more labour as initiatives that will deliver in due course.

The writer is a long-standing commentator on contemporary issues.

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