India's Modi promises jobs, infrastructure if BJP wins third term


  • World
  • Sunday, 14 Apr 2024

Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President of the Bharatiya Janata Party J. P. Nadda display copies of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) election manifesto for the general election, in New Delhi, India, April 14, 2024. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

NEW DELHI (Reuters) -Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) promised on Sunday to create jobs, boost infrastructure and expand welfare programmes if it wins a third term, seeking to address key voter concerns ahead of next week's elections.

The general election, which begins on April 19, will be held in seven stages until June 1. Votes are due to be counted on June 4 and results expected the same day.

Modi, 73, is widely tipped to win a record-equalling third term on the back of his 10-year record, which includes strong economic growth, infrastructure projects, welfare handouts and aggressive Hindu nationalism.

Surveys, however, suggest unemployment, inflation and rural distress remain issues of concern in the world's most populous country despite its strong economy, and addressing these will be Modi's biggest challenge.

"Our focus is on dignity of life ... on quality of life, our focus is also on creating jobs through investment," Modi said after releasing the manifesto, titled Modi's Guarantee, at the party headquarters in the capital.

Modi said the manifesto is focused on creating jobs in sectors such as infrastructure, aviation, railways, electric vehicles, green energy, semiconductors and pharmaceuticals, among others, in a bid to address discontent at unemployment levels that are rising despite strong economic growth.

"India's youth will not have even imagined the number of opportunities that will come their way," he told cheering BJP members, including top federal ministers who sat in the audience wearing stoles featuring the BJP's lotus symbol.

CONGRESS CLAIMS EMPTY PROMISES

Congress, the main opposition party, which has been struggling to revive its fortunes, said it was not impressed by a manifesto that is filled with "empty promises".

"Today, people want to ask what happened in the last 10 years," Congress lawmaker Manish Tewari said. "Unemployment is rampant and inflation has broken the back of common people. The people of the country will hold him (Modi) to account for what’s happened in the last 10 years."

Modi also vowed to expand welfare programmes, including bringing all Indians above the age of 70 under an existing free health insurance programme and pushing piped cooking gas connections to all houses to follow up on a subsidised cooking gas cylinder programme launched in 2016.

Other BJP promises include raising the cap on loans for non-farming small and micro borrowers, offering free housing for another 30 million poor and keeping up a free grains programme for 800 million Indians until 2029.

The manifesto said the BJP government would continue to focus on a path of low inflation and fiscal prudence to achieve high economic growth.

"The ambition of the 1.4 billion people of the country is Modi's mission," Modi said. "I am placing this manifesto before the people to seek their blessings. Please bless us ... to increase our strength ... implement this manifesto and ensure a developed India."

Unemployment was the primary concern of 27% of the 10,000 voters surveyed by Lokniti-CSDS across 19 of India's 28 states, with rising prices coming second at 23%, the Hindu newspaper reported last week.

The unemployment rate rose to 5.4% in 2022/23, from 4.9% in 2013/14 just before Modi swept to power, and nearly 16% of urban youth in the 15-29 years age group remained unemployed in 2022/23 due to poor skills and a lack of quality jobs, official data shows.

"BJP does not even want to discuss the most important issues related to people's lives,” Congress leader Rahul Gandhi posted on X. "This time the youth is not going to fall into Modi’s trap, now they will strengthen the hands of Congress and bring an 'employment revolution' in the country."

(Reporting by YP Rajesh and Shivangi Acharya; editing by Miral Fahmy)

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