Modi in India, humiliated by voters, faces serious economic difficulties

The humiliation of Modi’s party resonates in part as an expression of popular frustration that India remains a land of economic peril for hundreds of millions of people, as well as a country characterized by startling contrasts in wealth. In big cities, five-star hotels boasting luxurious spas look down on teeming, unsanitary slums. In rural areas, malnutrition prevails under many roofs and families struggle to find the money to send their children to school.

Even though its working-age population numbers about a billion, India has only 430 million jobs, according to the Center for Monitoring Indian Economy, an independent research institute based in Mumbai. And most of those considered employed are stuck in precarious circumstances as day laborers and farm workers, lacking reliable wages and government workplace protections.

Improved livelihoods are evident in many cities, from skyscrapers filling the skyline to air-conditioned malls and luxury cars choking the streets. But the gains are narrowly concentrated. Professionals working in technology hubs in the south of the country and around the capital New Delhi have seen substantial progress. A rapidly growing domestic auto industry is a source of relatively well-paying jobs.

Tycoons like Gautam Adani, one of Asia’s richest men, have seen their business empires strengthen thanks to their relationships with Modi and his willingness to remove regulatory obstacles to their increased fortunes.