Indian far-right Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked Sunday the nation's poor to forgive him for having imposed a three-week lockdown on the country over the coronavirus pandemic.
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"I apologize for taking these harsh steps that have caused difficulties in your lives, especially the poor people," Modi said in his monthly address aired on state radio.
"I know some of you will be angry with me. But these tough measures were needed to win this battle."
The lockdown, which is the world’s largest, has left millions of poor people hungry, and forced migrant workers to walk hundreds of kilometers back to their native villages.
Despite supporting broad measures to avoid the spread of the virus in the country of 1.3 billion, opposition leaders, analysts, and some citizens have criticized the implementation of the lockdown and the government’s lack of planning ahead of the decision.
The massive movement of migrants particularly threatens to spread the disease into the whole country.
After the lockdown was announced, migrants rushed out to return to their villages. Police said four were killed Saturday when a truck ran into them in the western state of Maharashtra, while another migrant collapsed and died in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh.
"We will die of walking and starving before getting killed by corona," said migrant worker Madhav Raj, 28, as he walked along the road in Uttar Pradesh.
In the cities, the anger was also mounting. "We have no food or drink. I am sat down thinking how to feed my family," said homemaker Amirbee Shaikh Yusuf, 50, in Mumbai's sprawling Dharavi slum.
The government announced Thursday a US$22.6 billion stimulus package to provide cash transfers and food donations to those in need.
But two of the three winners of the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2019, Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo said much more aid is needed.
"Without that, the demand crisis will snowball into an economic avalanche, and people will have no choice but to defy orders," they wrote in an opinion piece published Sunday in the Indian Express.
As more than 25 percent of Indians live below the poverty line, the lockdown is expected to aggravate the country’s economic troubles.
As of Sunday, India has reported 1,024 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 27 deaths.