Yesterday it was announced that Pranab Mukherjee, a former President of India, and a politician who served 51 years within the young nation’s government, died after being diagnosed with the coronavirus 21 days earlier. Later the Indian government also announced a return of tensions at the border with China. This is the second time in 2020 that the hotly contested territory between the two nuclear-armed enemies has heated up.
Learn more about the background of India in my extensive 16-part podcast series: The History of India.
Both of these significant stories missed most of the headlines and major television news outlets in the west. These stories are a background to the more acute coronavirus crisis that is pummeling the world’s largest democracy.
India still sits behind the US and Brazil for most coronavirus cases in the world, but its numbers are rising faster than anywhere else in the world. For the past few days, the country has recorded more than 60,000 new cases per day. On Sunday, that number reached nearly 80,000. In August alone, India recorded almost 2 million new coronavirus cases and 28,000 coronavirus deaths.
The whole world has felt the economic impact of the coronavirus, but this week India announced the country’s economy shrank almost 24% since the onset of the pandemic. That is the largest decline of any major economy. The average Indian in this densely populated country earns $1,600 a year. That was before the pandemic. Now, many are without work. In the first month of the pandemic, 121 million Indians lost their jobs.
When the pandemic began, India boasted of its fight against the disease by enforcing the world’s most massive national shut down. All of that now appears to be pointless. Even if shutting down the economy did prove useful, after posting such a steep economic decline over the last quarter, it is unlikely India would take similar measures in the future even as the new coronavirus infection and death rates continue to climb.
India’s economy has been in decline for several years. Although once considered one of the premier spots for investment in South Asia, since 2018, the country has struggled.
Why You Should Care
The Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, is no moderate. He is part of the global pack of disruptors who rose to leadership positions across the planet in the last decade. He has built his base upon Hindu nationalism. While serving as a chief minister of Gujarat in 2002, critics charge he encouraged an outbreak of violent riots that killed approximately 1,000 people. Modi has frequently leveraged Hindu nationalism to stir up his supporters since becoming the Prime Minister of the world’s largest democracy.
When times get hard, extremist leaders can present unique dangers to the people they are tasked to lead. In the face of a massive economic downturn and a global pandemic that is crippling India, Prime Minister Modi has proven in the past his inability to resist the temptation of nationalism to scapegoat elements of India’s vast population.