The COVID-19 pandemic has induced multiple social and economic consequences in the Indian subcontinent with the situation in various countries looking dismal and hapless at the moment. Right from the political crises in Pakistan and Myanmar to the economic crisis looming in Nepal to a full-blown economic meltdown in Sri Lanka, the subcontinent has become a hotbed of crises. Let us understand in brief the crises that strangle the subcontinent.
One gets reminded of Late Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s words while watching the political crisis that unfolded in Pakistan over the first week of April. When he lost the no-confidence motion in 1996, he gave a famous speech where he said, ‘Sarkaarei aayegi, sarkaarei jaayegi, magar desh rahna chaahiye’ (Governments might come, governments might go but the country must live). Tremors of this political crisis were felt a month ago when the then Pakistan PM Imran Khan gave out statements in praise of India and its foreign diplomacy. He had been dilly-dallying through the crisis through political rhetoric. PM Khan’s term in Islamabad has been marred by double-digit inflation figures that deepened the economic crisis in the country. Apart from this, he started antagonising two major players who have a huge influence on the politics of Pakistan. One is the mighty Pakistani military establishment and the other is the United States. While he started having differences with the very military that had allegedly helped him win the 2018 elections, he started giving out statements against Washington in the recent past. To add fuel to the fire, the coalition parties also started falling out with Imran Khan’s party. The deepening economic crisis, the fallout with the military and poor relations with the coalition parties culminated together in the ousting of Imran Khan. Despite his desperate attempts to dissolve the Parliament and conduct fresh elections, Imran Khan became the first Prime Minister to be ousted through a no-confidence motion.
While the Pakistan story played out, another political mayhem took over our neighbours in the east. Ever since the military took over the country of Myanmar in 2021, social, economic, political and humanitarian crises have grown exponentially. Right from arresting hundreds of citizens and curbing basic human rights to indiscriminately shooting into residential neighbourhoods killing hundreds of civilians, Myanmar is facing a grave situation. The dire situation in Myanmar continues to lead to the displacement of its people. More than 2,23,000 people in Myanmar were displaced by armed conflict and unrest since the coup and remain in overcrowded displacement sites. A recently published UN report projected that 14.4 million people will need aid in some form, including 6.9 million men, 7.5 million women, and five million children.
While political problems loom over neighbours in the east and west, economic crises have taken over our neighbours down south and north. Marred by a severe shortage of foreign currency, the island nation of Sri Lanka is not able to import essential goods such as fuel. The whole economic crisis started when the new Rajapaksa government reduced tax rates as promised during his political campaign in 2019. To make things worse, the pandemic hit the prominent tourism industry of Sri Lanka. Unable to manage its rising fiscal deficits, Sri Lanka’s credit ratings started plummeting. Its foreign currency reserves have reduced by more than 70% in the past two years. As citizens have felt the economic crisis through exhausting thirteen-hour power outages, protests have increased on the streets and the political establishment has been rattled.
The problem of depleting foreign exchange reserves has also hit our neighbour in the north, Nepal. Due to rising prices, the import bill in Nepal has grown exponentially. The external threats from China and rising fuel prices have hampered the balance of payments in Nepal. Experts believe that the situation is a short-term condition. However, if the situation persists, Nepal might be leading toward a grave economic crisis similar to Sri Lanka.
The dismal economic and political conditions in the subcontinent are a lesson for India. India must carefully avoid the mistakes of our neighbours and steer gradually along the path of economic recovery.