The Hindu nationalist BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) government in India led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi marked the seventh anniversary of its ascent to power a little over a month ago without any of its customary fanfare. The subdued air around the government’s conduct reveals a country in many ways under siege.
First of all, the deadly coronavirus has besieged India, with the authorities’ response to a devastating second wave bordering between the inept and the irresponsible. So far, close to 400,000 people have lost their lives, though unofficial estimates place the toll much higher. More than 30 million people have been infected; many have had to struggle for basic supplies of medicines and oxygen in the last three months, as hospitals overflowed and the health-care system buckled under the pressure. Only 4 per cent of Indians are fully vaccinated, the government having failed to order sufficient doses even while it was boasting that it had done the world a favour by preventing a major calamity.
Next, the economy is under siege. The GDP growth rate has cratered, thanks in part (but not only) to the draconian nationwide lockdown imposed in March 2020 and fitfully renewed since. Some 75 million people were pushed below the poverty line in 2020 and 97 per cent of Indians reported becoming poorer during the last year. Unemployment figures are at the highest levels ever recorded. Tens of thousands of micro, small and medium enterprises (especially those employing fewer than twenty people) have been forced to close. India’s middle class is estimated to have shrunk by 32 million in the last year. It is clear that both lives and livelihoods have been in jeopardy since the Modi government’s re-election in May 2019.