tharoor139_Yawar NazirGetty Images_indiacoroanvirusmigrantworkers Yawar Nazir/Getty Images

India Besieged

Though Indians have rallied in solidarity to combat the coronavirus pandemic, reasonable questions about the country's lack of preparedness are being posed. But the answers will have to wait until the overriding challenge – avoiding millions of COVID-19 victims – has passed.

NEW DELHI – “India is walking home,” declared the headline in The Indian Express as newspapers and television screens filled with images of millions of migrant workers, clutching their meager belongings, trekking along India’s deserted highways to return to their homes, hundreds of kilometers away.

Such images were last seen in India seven decades ago, when the country’s partition and the emergence of Pakistan forced millions of displaced people to stagger across the borders to their new homelands. This time, it was a different kind of man-made tragedy.

On the evening of March 24, Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared, with just four hours’ notice, a 21-day lockdown from midnight onward, to prevent the spread of coronavirus. But he had failed to plan for the impact of his announcement on India’s vast informal economy.

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