India Today: ‘Lost. Listless. Wounded. Rudderless’

The world’s largest democracy (and 2nd most populated) now has the second-highest number of COVID-19 cases after a week in which it added nearly half a million new infections.

It has the fastest growing coronavirus crisis, with more than 80,000 new infections reported each day, The New York Times reports.

PM Modi urges Indians to maintain social distancing, wear masks and keep “hale and hearty.”

And India’s economic devastation has dented its aspirations. Its economy has shrunk faster than any other major nation’s –24 per cent compared with a drop of 12.4 per cent in Italy and 9.5 per cent in the United States, two of the most COVID-19-affected advanced countries. As many as 200 million people could slip back into poverty, according to some estimates.

Terming the 24 per cent fall in the economic growth, former Reserve Bank governor Raghuram Rajan has said the country’s bureaucracy should come out of complacency and take meaningful action.

Photo: NY Times

“The bureaucracy needs to be frightened out of their complacency”.

According to economist Syed Hasan Javed, “The numbers could be worse when estimates of the damage in the informal sector are taken into account.” It could add up to anywhere between 37pct and 42 pct”, he estimates.

Much of the damage was caused by the coronavirus lockdown imposed by India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, which experts now say was at turns both too tight and too porous, both hurting the economy and spreading the virus.

Its economic growth was slowing even before the pandemic. A sense of malaise is creeping over the nation. Social divisions are widening. Anti-Muslim feelings are on the rise, partly because of a malicious social media campaign that falsely blamed Muslims for spreading the virus.

Not so long ago it was amassing serious geopolitical firepower and aimed to update its woefully vintage military and become a regional political and economic superpower that could someday rival China, Asia’s biggest success story. The country, according to a the NYT report, represents a possible alternative to China at a time when the United States and much of the rest of the world is realigning itself away from Beijing.

But scholars use many of the same words when contemplating India today: Lost. Listless. Wounded. Rudderless. Unjust.

“The engine has been smashed,” said Arundhati Roy, one of India’s pre-eminent writers. “The ability to survive has been smashed…”

“Mega policy missteps, fake narrative, raging Corona Pandemic is decimating India’s Middle class and pushing it economy toward collapse,” says the economist.

Add to the mix is India’s latest border spat with China in Ladakh –the Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) is said to have occupied 1,000 Sq kms, according to a tweet by Pravin Sawhney, an Indian journalist and author.

“‘If war starts, India will have no chance of winning’: This conclusion is correct. War, if started by India will end soon with no possibility of it achieving objective of evicting PLA,” tweeted Sawhney.

Meanwhile, members of Modi’s economic advisory council sound inchoate, resorting to social media and opinion editorials to counter one another, BBC reports.

In essence, says the report, “the quibble among the members of the economic team of Mr Modi and his government is not about whether India is facing an economic slowdown or not, but about how grave the current economic crisis is. This is a remarkable reversal in stance of the same group of economists who, until a few months ago, waxed eloquent about how India was the fastest growing economy in the world…”

The South Asian country’s economy has shrunk faster than any other major nation’s. As many as 200 million people could slip back into poverty, according to some estimates.

Illustration: Dawn

Its 200m Muslims fear the prime minister is building a Hindu state.

India has changed the law to make it easier for adherents of all the subcontinent’s religions, except Islam, to acquire citizenship. At the same time, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) wants to compile a register of all India’s 1.3bn citizens, as a means to hunt down illegal immigrants. Many of the country’s Muslims do not have the papers to prove they are Indian, so they risk being made stateless.

BJP’s scheme sparked widespread and lasting protests. Students, secularists, even the largely fawning media have been speaking out against Mr. Modi for his apparent determination to transform India from a tolerant, multi-religious place into a chauvinist Hindu state, according to The Economist.

“India is truly facing a crisis, possibly unlikely to be resolved soon,” says a South Asia and US-China analyst based in Asia-Pacific.

Khaled Almaeena, a Gulf political and media analyst tells DesPardes, “The divisive policies of the BJP and the RSS have further dded to India’s economic woes”. Instead of focusing on social and economic challenges, India is now being divided by race, sect, caste and what type of food a person eats, he adds. “While China progresses India wallows in self destruction. The Indian people deserve better.”

Mr. Modi, in a recent episode of his weekly radio show, acknowledged that India was “fighting on many fronts.” He urged Indians to maintain social distancing, wear masks and keep “hale and hearty.”

The original reports appeared in The New York Times, BBC and VOA News website.