Among the world’s autocratic populists, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, of India, is distinguished as a storyteller. He offers beguiling accounts of Hindu identity and Indian greatness, with the aid of allied newspapers and television networks, as well as on Twitter, where he has sixty-eight million followers and a phalanx of trolls. When the pandemic struck, last year, Modi summoned his loyal media barons and editors, who, according to the Prime Minister’s Web site, promised “inspiring and positive stories” about his government’s fight against the coronavirus. The country suffered tens of thousands of Covid-19 deaths in 2020, but forecasts of even more dire outcomes did not materialize. In January, at Davos, Modi boasted that India had “saved humanity from a big disaster by containing corona effectively.” He loosened restrictions and invited worshippers to the Kumbh Mela, a weeks-long Hindu festival that attracted…

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