Youthful India

Premlata Venkataraman


For decades, I recall from my younger days, India’s thinkers and rulers described its population as a problem in political discourse. But these days, India’s Prime Minister Modi frequently boasts on the global stage that India is filled with youthful energy, with 30% of its 1.25 billion people between the ages of 6 and 30 years. He is deftly turning the tables on looking at India’s younger population as an opportunity, if only we know how to harness it.

During a recent visit to India, this heady exuberance was staring at me wherever I went. It was no idle boast. Living in Pittsburgh with an aging population — Pennsylvania is one of the most geriatric states in the union — we have become accustomed to see aging people running airports, shopping malls, grocery stores, and a slower pace of life.

In direct contrast, just landing in India brings one face to face with the energetic bustle of India’s youth.Even arriving at the sparkling new airports in Kochi, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Mumbai or New Delhi, you see everywhere young employees in slick uniforms striding along briskly, ready to solve passengers’ problems. If one feels a little gray and tired in the face of this energy, rest assured, it is not just the long journey, but India’s bubbling youth staring at you.

Of course, as India’s youth seek the holy grail of success, what they need is quality education and skills allowing them to compete locally and globally. Doors are literally opening for educated, skilled, and qualified Indians all over the world. In the changed atmosphere in India today, even IITs have opened more campuses. Engineering colleges, especially those in information technology and computer science, have chaotically sprouted up throughout the land to meet the demand. Indian youth is so attuned to opportunities that if there is a slight drop in demand in certain fields, the enrollments in colleges in those disciplines drops drastically, much to the chagrin of the new colleges without reputation.

Needless to say, for young people, having the right multinational employer and an upwardly mobile career give a lot of disposable money. India’s new consumer economy is looking precisely for this demographic slice to grow and prosper. It is no surprise that there is a mall in every suburb, selling the most upscale designer merchandise, and bars and food joints all around.

Young people with more money than their parents and grandparents had accumulated over their lifetime live a lifestyle that is quite alien to the elders. Eating out at fancy eateries, dressing in the most fashionable clothes and driving high-end foreign automobiles have become quite de rigueur. Throw in also weekend jaunts to Sri Lanka, Thailand, Singapore, and Dubai for singles…

At the fancy new airports in India, you find affluent young parents with children in tow going on vacation to the choice spots of the world. Not long ago, flying in India was for the wealthy and businessmen; for others, it was usually only for family emergencies.

But the picture is not all rosy for the new Young India. If manufacturing and service sectors are not able to provide jobs for teeming millions, they will hit turbulence. Countries having a lot of young people who don’t have jobs encounter social unrest. Look at Greece and Spain.

If India is to avoid this, its federal and state governments and its burgeoning businesses need to grow at a pace fast enough to absorb its young with jobs. For this to happen, its manufacturing and service sectors have to further expand, for which a good infrastructure is necessary.

As long as every segment of India feels that it is getting a slice of the pie, there will be economic mobility and hence social stability.    ♦

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