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India’s Self-Inflicted Economic Catastrophe

COVID-19’s devastating impact on India has been compounded by the BJP government’s disastrous decision to impose nationwide lockdowns without providing any support to workers. Instead, the BJP used the pandemic to consolidate its power and suppress dissent.

NEW DELHI – Nearly 80% of the estimated 70 million people around the world who fell into extreme poverty at the onset of COVID-19 in 2020 were from India, a recent World Bank report has revealed. But even this shocking figure could be an underestimate, as the lack of official data makes it difficult to assess the pandemic’s human costs.

What accounts for this alarming rise in Indian poverty? COVID-19 was undoubtedly India’s worst health calamity in at least a century. But the pandemic’s economic and social consequences go beyond the direct effects on health and mortality. As I argue in my recent book, The Making of a Catastrophe: The Disastrous Economic Fallout of the COVID-19 Pandemic in India, very significant policy failures – owing to government action and inaction – were responsible for widespread and significant damage to Indian livelihoods and for the country’s decline in terms of many basic indicators of economic well-being.

This judgment may seem excessively harsh. After all, India’s government did not cause the pandemic, and many other countries experienced economic setbacks after they failed to control the virus. But the devastating impact of the pandemic on India has been compounded by economic policies that reflected the country’s deeply-embedded inequalities.