New Delhi, March 7 (IANS) They may be voting for the first time but they are 100 million strong. India's first-time voters, many of whom are barely out of their teens, know what they want from the general elections - a strong prime minister and effective governance that can restore the country's growth path.
Many of the voters who would be casting their ballot for the first time in the April-May polls, whose results would be declared May 16, were of the view - based no doubt on what they read in newspapers and watched on TV - that scams have corroded the Indian economy while weak foreign policies have embarrassed it on the global stage.
But most of them have a good idea of the national scene and know exactly what they are talking about.
"Till a decade back we were growing at a rate of around eight percent; now that has dropped to four percent... immediate measures are needed to put the economy back on track and only a strong prime minister can do that," T.R. Rao, an 18-year-old commerce student in Hyderabad, told IANS.
"We need to focus on industries as well as agriculture," he added.
According to the Election Commission of India, 814 million people -- almost the combined population of Russia, the US, Brazil and Bangladesh -- would be casting their votes to elect the 16th Lok Sabha. This is an increase of some 100 million from the 2009 elections -- and a sharp rise from the 176 million of 1951 when newly independent India conducted its maiden Lok Sabha elections.
Of these, over 23 million are aged between 18 and 19 years, constituting 2.8 percent of the national electorate. Uttar Pradesh tops the list with more than 3.8 million voters between 18 and 19, followed by West Bengal (around 2.1 million).
The Election Commission of India reduced the voting age to 18 from 21 in March 1989.
The biggest challenge for the new PM will be balanced development all over India especially in states where Maoists are active, feels Jharkhand resident Jayant Singh, 23.
"Development is good only if it's spread equally. In states gripped with red terror, development is negligent. The new PM will not only have to deal with Maoists have will also have to walk the extra mile to help state governments," he said from Ranchi.
For 19-year-old Dapan Khare from Mumbai, India needed to improve its image on the global stage by standing up to countries like the US and Pakistan.
Referring to the cases of Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade's face-off with the US authorities over the alleged forged papers of her Indian maid or the beheading of Indian soldiers by Pakistani forces, Khare, a political science student, said both were "mishandled."
"We are a military and economic might and it's high time we start behaving like one. Countries like the US have to be sent a message that it would be difficult for them to survive without a market like India, and Pakistan needs to understand that if it dares to annoy us unnecessarily, there will be serious repercussions," he said.
"India should start putting its foot down and act like a strong nation which cannot be bullied, especially by its neighbours," Khare added.
Meanwhile, youngsters from the northeast said the region continues to remain neglected and out of touch with the rest of the country.
"The cases of discrimination are happening because people from the northeast are seen as outsiders and that, in turn, is due to the lack of connectivity with other parts of India," said Sunanda Gurung, a student from Assam who is all set to head to Delhi for her graduation.
"The new government should work on educating people from other parts of the country about the northeast, while promoting healthy interaction between them," Gurung told IANS.
Though Naina Razdan, a 26-year-old resident of Aligarh who too would be voting for the first time, warned that if the new government does not ensure clean, effective governance and "strong leadership", it won't remain in power for long.
"People are fed up with the current political system and if the veterans don't fall in line and continue with their shenanigans, there are newer options for the voters," she said.