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coronavirus .crisis shartters indias big dreams


SURAT, India — The hit that India’s dreams have taken from the coronavirus pandemic can be found in the hushed streets of Surat’s industrial zone.

You can see it in textile mills that took generations to build but are now sputtering, eking out about a tenth of the fabric they used to make.

You can see it in the lean faces of the families who used to sew the finishing touches on saris but, with so little business, are now cutting back on vegetables and milk.

You can see it in the empty barbershops and mobile phone stores, which shoppers have deserted as their meager savings dwindle to nothing.

Ashish Gujarati, the head of a textile association in this commercial hub on India’s west coast, stood in front of a deserted factory with a shellshocked look on his face and pointed up the road.

“You see that smokestack?” he asked. “There used to be smoke coming out of it.”

Not so long ago, India’s future looked entirely different. It boasted a sizzling economy that was lifting millions out of poverty, building modern megacities and amassing serious geopolitical firepower. It aimed to give its people a middle-class lifestyle, update its woefully vintage military and become a regional political and economic superpower that could someday rival China, Asia’s biggest success story.

But the economic devastation in Surat and across the country is imperiling many of India’s aspirations. The Indian economy has shrunk faster than any other major nation’s. As many as 200 million people could slip back into poverty, according to some estimates. Many of its normally vibrant streets are empty, with people too frightened of the outbreak to venture far.


Much of this damage was caused by the coronavirus lockdown imposed by India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, which experts now say was at turns both too tight and too porous, both hurting the economy and spreading the virus. India now has the fastest growing coronavirus crisis, with more than 80,000 new infections reported each day.

A sense of malaise is creeping over the nation. Its economic growth was slowing even before the pandemic. Social divisions are widening. Anti-Muslim feelings are on the rise, partly because of a malicious social media campaign that falsely blamed Muslims for spreading the virus. China is increasingly muscling into Indian territory.