Only the US has more coronavirus cases than India. But unlike Trump, Modi seems immune from criticism


“Modi has staked out for himself the role of not just the political leader of India, but also its social, moral and spiritual leader, in the mold of Mahatma Gandhi,” Ali stated.

But his second-term aspirations to revitalize the financial system now appear more distant than ever as a result of the pandemic. As it continues to batter the Indian financial system, analysts say it is unclear if the populist chief can emerge politically unscathed.

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Compared with different world leaders, like Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro — who downplayed the menace of the pandemic and dismissed the coronavirus as a “little flu” solely to be contaminated later himself — Modi took the coronavirus critically from the starting and acted swiftly.
When he ordered a nationwide lockdown on March 24, the nation of 1.36 billion had reported simply over 500 coronavirus cases and 10 deaths.

“You have seen how the most powerful nations have become helpless in the face of this pandemic,” Modi stated in a dwell televised handle to the nation, as he introduced the lockdown, warning that India might be set again many years if the outbreak was not handled correctly.

“There is no other way to remain safe from coronavirus … we have to break the cycle of infection,” he stated.

A man crosses a deserted Rajpath in New Delhi on March 22, 2020.

By taking drastic motion early, Modi reaffirmed his picture as a decisive chief who is ready to take strict, politically robust measures for the sake of the nation, stated Ali, the researcher at the Center Policy Research.

He is seen as a “saintly figure who means well and always acts in the larger national interest,” stated Ali.

Indian public well being specialists, nevertheless, have differed on their help for the timing and effectiveness of the lockdown. Ramanan Laxminarayan, a senior analysis scholar at Princeton University, stated it was important as a result of infections had been growing quickly at the time, and that it helped lower illness transmission.

Others, together with virologist T. Jacob John, argue the lockdown was imposed too early and too broadly, when cases had been nonetheless low and concentrated in particular areas. Consequently, more folks had been impacted by the resultant financial slowdown than wanted to be, and never sufficient sources had been obtainable to help slum areas, for instance, the place lockdown measures together with social distancing had been inconceivable.

The unsustainable nature of the nationwide lockdown merely delayed the unfold of the outbreak.

“Now, looking back it was clearly a mistake. We should have waited for longer. Because we didn’t stop the pandemic,” stated economist and Nobel laureate Abhijit Banerjee.

What most specialists agree on is that India’s lockdown — the largest and certainly one of the strictest in the world — was imposed with not sufficient discover or planning. Coming into impact much less than 4 hours after it was introduced, the measures introduced the nation to a digital standstill and triggered a migrant crisis.
In the cities, poor day laborers had been immediately jobless. Many had no alternative however to return to their dwelling villages, however with trains and public transport suspended, some walked for tons of of miles.

“A few days of advance notice would not have hurt the lockdown, but would’ve helped small traders plan their stocks, helped people get to places where they could be prepared to stay for a longer period of time, and big companies to shift to alternative ways of working,” stated Laxminarayan.

“What’s the point of surviving Covid-19 only to die of starvation or to be stranded without work?” he stated.

According to the World Bank, a big proportion of India’s 40 million inner migrants had been affected by the lockdown.

India’s Labour Ministry says there is no such thing as a state-wide knowledge obtainable on deaths of migrant employees throughout the lockdown.

No actual opposition

Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has insisted the lockdown was efficient and essential. “Had we not announced the lockdown when we did, the numbers would have been very different today,” stated BJP’s nationwide spokesperson, Syed Zafar Islam.

India’s Health Minister Harsh Vardhan stated Monday the lockdown was a “bold” resolution that had prevented as many as 78,000 deaths.

“It has been estimated that this decision prevented approximately … 37,000 to 78,000 deaths,” the minister stated.

The BJP’s landslide victory in the nationwide elections final yr left the greatest opposition occasion, the Indian National Congress, dispirited and gripped by an endless management disaster, in addition to rebellions from inside. Due to a weak, fragmented opposition, Modi hasn’t confronted concerted criticism, analysts stated.

Political observers additionally pointed to the lack of crucial protection from India’s media.

“Television news stations rarely cover India’s crumbling health infrastructure in the face of the fast spreading pandemic,” Ali stated. “For weeks, India’s most watched television networks have been obsessively focused on a Bollywood actor’s suicide even as India became (a) leading global hotspot of the pandemic.”

Unlike different democratic leaders, Modi not often offers press conferences. Interactions with the media are normally left to his authorities ministers.

Instead, he addresses the nation straight on dwell tv and radio, making emotional appeals to the public to observe his lead.

A senior citizen watches Modi address the nation on a television broadcast during India's government-imposed coronavirus lockdown.
“I am well aware of the problems you have faced — some for food, some for movement from place to place, and others for staying away from homes and families,” he said in a speech in April, as he prolonged the lockdown.

“However, for the sake of your country, you are fulfilling your duties like a disciplined soldier. This is the power of ‘We, the People of India’ that our constitution talks about.”

Compared to his predecessors, Modi has made a a lot greater effort to talk on to peculiar Indians. On the final Sunday of each month, he hosts a radio program known as “Mann Ki Baat” — or “inner thoughts” — which normally touches on cultural points.

Some migrant employees who misplaced their livelihood in the lockdown have refused guilty Modi for his or her predicament.

Over 10 agonizing days, this migrant worker walked and hitchhiked 1,250 miles home. India's lockdown left him no choice

Subhash Das had been working as a driver in a metropolis southwest of New Delhi for 10 years when he was sacked much less than a month into the lockdown. He had no alternative however to return to his dwelling village in japanese India, and has been struggling to supply for his household.

He stated the lockdown was essential and helped to regulate the outbreak, though it had upended his life.

“I don’t blame the Prime Minister for my situation. It’s due to coronavirus that people like me are suffering,” he stated. “I love Modi. He’s done so much for my village. He’s provided (us) electricity and concrete homes.”

Ritika Oberoi, who misplaced her job as a senior supervisor at a journey company in May when the firm went out of enterprise, additionally does not maintain Modi accountable both. ”It’s Covid-19 that hit the journey business severely,” she said.

When the restrictions were lifted in late May, infections started to increase at an exponential rate. It took five-and-a-half months for India to record 1 million cases on July 17. Then, it took another three weeks to hit 2 million, 16 days to reach 3 million, and only 12 days to pass 4 million in early September before arriving at 5 million on Wednesday.

Laxminarayan, the public health expert at Princeton University, said it was never possible for India to contain the epidemic due to its underfunded health system, high population density and lack of public health awareness.

“Social distancing is a luxurious that was merely by no means obtainable to most Indians,” he said. “At this level the epidemic is uncontrolled and can run via the Indian inhabitants till we attain some semblance of inhabitants immunity.”

The economic fallout

While some Indians may not blame Modi for the escalating coronavirus outbreak, experts warned that the economic fallout of the pandemic could eventually cost Modi politically.

“Modi has persistently introduced himself to the Indian citizens as a ‘growth messiah,’ who will one way or the other rework India via his management from a low earnings creating nation to some sort of a socially and economically superior nation,” said Sumantra Bose, a political scientist at the London School of Economics.

Supporters wear masks of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and flash victory signs as they celebrate on the vote results day for India's general election on May 23, 2019.

“He’s been promoting this dream for the previous 6 years. However … that makes him weak to a extremely severe downturn in the financial system.”

When Modi was first elected in 2014, he promised to overhaul India’s economy and create millions of jobs for young people.

When he sought a second time period, he set the bar even larger — in its election manifesto, the BJP envisaged to show India into the world’s third largest financial system by 2032, with a dimension of $10 trillion.
Weeks after assuming workplace, the Modi authorities pledged to show India right into a 5-trillion-dollar financial system in 5 years. By some economists’ estimate, that may require the Indian financial system to develop on a median of 9% per yr.

But even earlier than the pandemic, the Indian financial system was already faltering.

In the previous three months of 2019, GDP development dropped to 4.7%, its slowest charge in more than six years.
India's economy added $1 trillion under Modi but not the millions of jobs it needs

Some of the best financial harm was brought on by a few of Modi’s signature insurance policies. In November 2016, he abruptly banned the two greatest banknotes in circulation, making 86% of the nation’s money nugatory.

While the intention was to crack down on black cash and tax evasion — which many specialists stated was misguided, given that the majority untaxed wealth shouldn’t be believed to be saved in money — the transfer wreaked havoc on the cash-dependent financial system and introduced a number of sectors to a halt.

And now, the coronavirus lockdown has plunged India right into a historic recession.

As companies, factories and development websites floor to a halt, India’s financial system contracted by 24% from April to June, the worst slump since 1996, when the country started reporting quarterly data. In April alone, an estimated 122 million Indians lost their jobs, although the number narrowed down to 11 million in July, according to the Centre for Monitoring the Indian Economy (CMIE), an independent think tank.
According to a World Bank report in July, round half of India’s inhabitants is vulnerable to slipping again into poverty as a result of earnings and job losses.
In May, Modi’s government announced a $260 billion relief package to prop up the ailing economy during the pandemic, but economists say too little of it was given to the poor, who have been hit hardest.
This week, international score company Moody’s projected India’s financial system would contract 11.5% this monetary yr, down from the 4% forecast in July, citing the extreme affect of the lockdown and the continued surge in coronavirus cases.

Hindu nationalism

With the economy in tatters, Modi has continued to pursue the Hindu nationalist agenda which helped him win a second term. But critics have warned that it could further polarize Hindus and Muslims — the latter have already been subject to vigilante attacks in recent years.
A resident looks at burnt-out buildings following clashes between between Hindus and Muslims in New Delhi on February 26, 2020.
During the pandemic, some of India’s 200 million Muslims have been targeted in Islamophobic attacks on the streets and online, and have been accused of spreading the virus, after a conservative Muslim group was linked to a highly publicized cluster of coronavirus cases in March.

While these incidents have been mostly isolated, the virus seems to be amplifying existing prejudices, playing into growing Hindu nationalism which in recent years has seen India’s Muslim societies increasingly marginalized.

India's Narendra Modi lays foundation stone at divisive Ayodhya temple despite rise in coronavirus cases
Last month, amid rising coronavirus cases, Modi attended a ground-breaking ceremony for a Hindu temple at the site of a demolished 16th-century mosque. The holy site at Ayodhya, a town in Uttar Pradesh state, has been at the center of the country’s most politically and culturally divisive land dispute. With the temple going into construction, Modi has fulfilled one of his key election promises.

But Bose said Modi’s nationalist policies ultimately won’t be enough to distract people from the reality of the economic crisis for long. Many Indians are simply too confused and worried about the pandemic and their livelihoods to express their political outrage right now — put simply, their disenchantment hasn’t manifested itself, he said.

“The unraveling of the Modi aura has begun, it is maybe not manifest but, however it’s there,” he said. “People usually are not actually fascinated by Modi or occasion politics, or the subsequent election proper now. In that sense, it is actually in a means untimely to say that Modi’s standing is unaffected.”

India’s next general election is still four years away in 2024, and there are no term limits for the position of prime minister in the constitution.

But Modi and his BJP will soon face a litmus test on their popular support — the upcoming legislative assembly elections in the eastern state of Bihar, home to millions of migrant workers who were deeply affected by the lockdown and economic nosedive.

The Bihar elections, scheduled to be held in October, could serve as a microcosm referendum on the Modi government’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak and the economy.

“The states are the constructing blocks of the nationwide politics,” Bose said. “The consequence of that election will likely be a dependable barometer.”



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