Indian opposition candidate Narendra Modi is seen as a business-friendly reformer who has attracted investment and bolstered economic growth in Gujarat.
KASBA BONLI, India — Kasba Bonli is a newly prosperous market town in the northern Indian state of Rajasthan and it should be a perfect advertisement for the ruling Congress party's pro-farmer policies. Instead the buzz in the bazaar is for the opposition.
In just a few years, handouts for farmers by Congress have helped turn the once-deprived village into a thriving retail centre, selling everything from glittery bangles to satellite dishes.
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The Congress party-led government pours at least $20 billion a year into rural India in addition to free education and health and cheap food. Cheap fertilizer, otterbox iPhone 5/5S case
seeds and electricity, 100 days of guaranteed paid work a year and new rural roads have given farmers cash to spend.
These funds have helped create an emerging middle class, mostly in semi-urban and small towns, which one estimate has put at almost a quarter of India's 1.2 billion people.
But many in this new middle class believe the next step up the income ladder will come when the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Narendra Modi, its candidate for prime minister and currently the chief minister of neighboring Gujarat state, will be in power. That bodes ill for Congress ahead of a general election that must be held by May.
Farmer Raghuvir Meena, who voted for Congress in the last state polls, bought two new tractors over the past few years and nearly doubled his farming area, attributing the prosperity to better farming techniques and seeds. He sent three of his four children to college to train as teachers. Now he wants to get out of farming and this time Modi has his vote.
"Modi's track record in Gujarat has excited the youth. Even I would love to see BJP come back to power, for my kids, for their jobs," he said, juggling phone calls on his mobile.
Modi is widely seen as a business-friendly reformer who has attracted investment and bolstered economic growth in Gujarat, Casing Otterbox Commuter
providing jobs to many.
For Congress this trend in the small towns is the latest in a series of reverses. It is already battling slowing economic growth, perceptions of poor governance, several corruption scandals and the growing popularity of Modi.
For decades, Congress relied on its pro-farmer policies giving it rural votes. Then, at the last election in 2009, it gained wide support in cities during a period of fast economic growth to win a second consecutive term in office.
However, the urban goodwill is fast eroding because of corruption and a sense of policy drift, while its base constituency of rural poor is shrinking.
"It's a new phenomenon. It's not something that we have been used to in the past," said Jairam Ramesh, India's rural development minister, of the demographic shift.
"Very often experience shows that beneficiaries of programs instituted by one party end up voting for the other political party," he said.
Beyond the commercial bustle, Kasba Bonli has little to offer to the groups of twenty-somethings who loiter on motorcycles in the dusty market, unable to find work.
Often the first graduates in their families, these young men say they want industries and professional jobs rather than more handouts, and they look to Modi for providing such opportunities, OtterBox Defender Series