Indian government faces elections as economy dives

NEW DELHI, March 18, 2009 (AFP) – Nineteen-year-old Souraj Thapa has never heard of the global financial crisis, but he’s finding that his job chances are drying up. “I’ve been to three companies but they’re not hiring,” said Thapa, a delivery courier in the Indian capital whose previous company went out of business and who is a first-time voter.

His problems echo those of millions, with potential voters looking ahead to India’s elections which kick off next month.

For India’s Congress-led government, which presided over four years of scorching growth, the abrupt end to the country’s economic party could not have come at a worse time as it seeks to win votes in the April 16 to May 13 polls.

The government is heading into the elections with an economy stumbling from bad to worse — growing at its slowest pace since 2003 as it feels the heat of the worldwide financial crisis.

“All of this is going to have a powerful impact on the election,” said Ravi Shankar Prasad, spokesman for the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

“You are talking of more than 10 million unemployed between last October and this March… and the projections are th