Demography is destiny. The key factor for growth, development and competitiveness is human capital. In modern times, it’s one of the best metrics for ascertaining a nation’s future economic and political success. Demography can change the pace and pattern of economic growth.

Countries with the greatest demographic opportunity are still unable to see the miracle of economic growth. One such big name is India. It has one of the youngest populations in an aging world. By 2022 the median age of India will be just 28 as compared with 37 in China and the US, 45 in Western Europe and 49 in Japan. This year will be quite crucial for the country as it heads into a general election this month.

In the upcoming poll, around 900 million people are eligible to vote. It is estimated that a whopping 130 million will be first-time voters. With 430 million Indians owning a smartphone, half a billion using the Internet, and more than 300 million using various social-media networks, this election will be fought both on the ground and online. How India’s young population votes will be a deciding factor. But the real issue is not whom they will vote for but the issues that will affect them after the polls, such as the pace of economic growth, unemployment, threats from the Fourth Industrial Revolution, internal cohesiveness and rising inequality.

Neither of the main parties – the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) or Congress – has provided a roadmap for tackling key issues apart from making big announcements in their manifestos. But these key issues hold the future for this demographic, whether they will be a part of a successful India that reaps the benefits of its demographic dividend or an India headed toward demographic disaster.

Demographic time bomb

Indian politicians have been quite optimistic about the country’s potential to reap the demographic dividend, but demographers and economists have warned that until there is a major change in the economy, no such opportunity will materialize. Over the past few years, one of the reasons behind the lack of foreign investment in manufacturing and infrastructure connectivity has been the lack of qualified manpower. That’s because most Indians have no access to quality education and are therefore not equipped to work in the modern economy. The dividend can be realized only when the right policies for education and good governance are in place.

Rapid digitization holds the key to taking advantage of this demographic dividend. It will help reduce the huge divide between rural and urban India. The unprecedented growth in connectivity, data and broadband has led India toward becoming the world’s second-largest digital consumer base. The digital divide within the country is narrowing on a rapid scale. We Indians need to take advantage of this opportunity by upskilling our workforce through proper strategies on a large scale.

We need to open digital universities that provide students with skills in line with market demands

Policymakers and planners, both in the central government and in the states, must pay attention to this change. A proper strategy needs to be put in place for upskilling our rural demographic, especially in the Hindi heartland. We need to open digital universities that provide students with skills in line with market demands.

India can also use current digital infrastructure to re-skill its workforce by focusing on eight key technologies: robotic process automation, artificial intelligence, virtual reality, Internet of Things, social and mobile, big-data analytics, cloud computing, and 3D printing. With the help of analytics, the government can design smarter policies, and track the efficiency of those programs. It will, in addition, prepare our workforce for next-generation jobs.

Digital economy

India has 18% of the world population and a workforce of more than 520 million. Historically, the demographic has contributed about 15% of the overall growth in advanced economies. India has one of the greatest opportunities to change its economic fortunes. To reap the benefits of this demographic, we need to make a dramatic shift in our present economy. In the coming decades, as every economy will be data-driven. The biggest asset will be data and human capital. India has both at the cheapest rate. The sheer size of its population, vibrant online commerce and social networks, and scant privacy protections are providing tons of data for analytics. With the help of a big-data management platform, governments or organizations can clean, filter and analyze huge numbers of records and reports. This enables the governing bodies to pinpoint the areas that require special attention. And given the different varieties of data that are generated every day, the constructive outcome is almost unending.

Good economics always makes a case for good politics. Building a future based on the digital economy, we can increase the overall efficiency and productivity of our economy, which has some serious problems such as bureaucracy, mismanaged public distribution systems, non-existent social security, poor healthcare, low penetration of financial services, corruption and unemployment. If India cannot make the transition quickly, then this unskilled, under-utilized, frustrated young population will derail economic growth and undermine harmony and may lose faith in the democratic system.