Some 122 million Indians were forced out of jobs last month alone, according to estimates from the CMIE. Daily wage workers and those employed by small businesses have taken the worst hit. These include hawkers, roadside vendors, workers employed in the construction industry and many who eke out a living by pushing handcarts and rickshaws.
“Much of the Indian government’s efforts to mitigate poverty over the years could be negated in a matter of just a few months,” said Ashwajit Singh, managing director of IPE Global, a development sector consultancy that advises several multinational aid agencies. Noting that he did not expect unemployment rates to improve this year, Singh said: “More people could die from hunger than the virus.”
For Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who came to power in 2014 promising to lift India’s poorest citizens out of poverty, the fallout from the lockdown brings with it significant political risk. He won an even larger second term majority last year on the strength of his government’s popular social programs that directly targeted the poor, such as the provision of cooking gas cylinders, power and public housing. The breadth and depth of this renewed economic pain will only increase the pressure on his government as it works to steer the country’s economy back on track.