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The Indian economy which is just now recovering from the catastrophic impacts of the last two and half years of the pandemic risks a relapse into depression if the anticipated Fourth Wave of Covid-induced crisis strikes the country. Indeed, for much of the last two and half years, the Indian economy has been in a “rut”, mainly due to lockdowns resulting in ceased economic activity and with loss of lives and livelihoods taking their toll. Moreover, just as the Second Wave wrought havoc on the country, it is entirely possible that a brutal Fourth Wave can lead to severe social and economic crises. Indeed, this is no time for complacency or to let our guards down, especially with the absolute lack of precautions among the general public once the restrictions were eased.
The global headwinds too would impact the Indian Economy as the concerted moves of the Central Banks worldwide to raise interest rates to cool inflation means that the era of easy money is over. Indeed, ever since 2020, Central Banks the world over were pumping in liquidity into the system, to ease the pain and suffering of households, hard hit by the pandemic. If and when the Fourth Wave arrives, it is definitely a case of bad timing for the Indian Economy, given that it is yet to recover completely. It would be a case of sending the Indian Economy into the ICU (Intensive Care Unit), which can be a bad thing for the Billions of us who would be pushed back into a crisis, that is largely of our own making.
If the economy is one thing, then the social sphere needs our attention as well. The pandemic laid bare India’s faultlines, and while there have been some good things about the pandemic, especially in the way we embraced the Digital Age, there have been bad and ugly manifestations of lawlessness and the fraying of the social fabric. It is high time that we took note of the spiralling societal crisis, lest we risk a descent into anarchy. Moreover, India’s Youth need jobs and not jails, which is further corroborated by the labour participation rate at a historically low 40 per cent. In addition, with widening inequality, we risk social unrest unless we address the many puzzles and paradoxes at the heart of the Indian Economy. As things stand, we do indeed risk a pandemic-induced depression with the next shoe to drop being India.
Continuing in the same vein, it is clear that we must learn from the mistakes of our neighbours such as Srilanka and Pakistan, and to some extent Nepal, who are in the throes of anarchy where the prescient warning from British Intelligence, about all of us being “four meals away from anarchy” needs to be heeded. Just like the Third Wave thwarted the Indian Economy’s emergence from the crisis, a Fourth Wave would send it back to the ICU and this is where our policymakers ought to be more welfare-oriented and not screw the common person more than they help the rich. There can be more assistance and support in the form of job guarantee schemes as well as a centralized social security scheme. Already the government is making the right moves in this direction by prioritizing Indians over exports as can be seen from the bans on Wheat and Sugar exports.
Having said that, a Second Wave caught India by surprise and while we did anticipate and plan for the Third Wave, it is entirely possible that the Fourth Wave would be a different ball game altogether. For one, this is the Age of the Unexpected and the Virality of viruses and Technology means that anything can happen anytime and everywhere and anywhere. Indeed, as I mentioned before, the only good of the pandemic is that it ushered in the Digital Age. However, there is a flip side to this as can be seen from our excessive dependence on Tech. Moreover, tech adoption and tech usage have been uneven where those without access led to a lost generation of learners, who were unable to bridge the Digital Divide found themselves at a loss.
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