India Wanted a Manufacturing Boom. Its Workers Are Back on the Farm Instead.


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INDORE, India—The sudden lockdown in 2020 sent workers streaming from cities back to villages in rural India, an exodus that many thought would be an easy-to-reverse blip on India’s journey to becoming an industrialized nation.

Instead, the ranks of India’s farmworkers have swelled by some 60 million over the past four years, a shift fueled in part by a food-welfare program that feeds hundreds of millions of people. Even last year, when much of the country had put the pandemic behind them, India’s farms added 13 million workers, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the food program would remain for another five years.

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