Alf Gunvald Nilsen in Public Books:
We know by now that authoritarian populists have handled the Covid-19 pandemic badly. Both Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro presided over spiraling death rates, fueled by a disregard for medical science and neglect of public health imperatives.
But India’s Narendra Modi appeared to buck this trend. After the first wave of the pandemic dissipated in September 2020, both national and international media echoed the government narrative that India, with Modi at its helm, had vanquished the coronavirus.
This public image, however, was revealed to be a mirage when a deadly second wave ripped through the country from late March to early June 2021. Millions of lives were lost. And it was a direct consequence of the failure of Modi and his party—the right-wing Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)—to expand medical infrastructure and roll out vaccinations effectively.
The BJP government, in short, chose to privilege Modi’s appearance as a strongman and heroic protector of the nation.