India’s Pandemic

India’s Pandemic

Authoritarian Populism and the Politics of a Viral Disaster

By Alf Nilsen

This book is the first comprehensive account of the trajectory of the Covid-19 pandemic in India. Written in lucid prose, India’s Pandemic shows in great detail how the country’s viral disaster was shaped by the politics of authoritarian populism.

EPUB, 250 Pages


December 2023

£20.99, $24.95

PDF, 250 Pages


December 2023

£20.99, $24.95

  • About This Book
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About This Book

In April and May 2021, India was engulfed in a viral disaster. The second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic ripped through the country with merciless ferocity, snuffing out millions of lives. Harrowing scenes of mass death belied the claims of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that India had managed the pandemic in an efficient, competent, and successful way. In fact, recent estimates suggest that as many as 5 million people perished in the first pandemic year in India, making it the worst humanitarian crisis the country had witnessed since independence and partition in 1947. 

India’s Pandemic traces the root of this viral disaster to the many ways that the Modi regime mismanaged and manipulated the pandemic for political gain from the very start. Arguing that the trajectory of the Covid-19 pandemic in India was shaped by the authoritarian populism of the Modi regime in crucial ways, the book sheds light on how a politics of spectacle, projecting an image of Modi as a muscular protector of the Indian nation, sidelined effective public health governance from the very onset of the pandemic. 

Drawing on a wide array of sources, India’s Pandemic documents the many dimensions of the crisis that resulted from this dynamic – firstly, a livelihood crisis among migrant and informal sector workers as a result of the national lockdown that was imposed in late March 2020; secondly, a crisis of constitutional democracy as the Modi regime, aided by lockdown restrictions, embarked on an authoritarian crackdown against dissenters; thirdly, a crisis of mass death as a result of the persistent negligence of public health imperatives. In conclusion, the book reflects on what India’s viral disaster tells us about the politics of authoritarian populism and on the likely impacts of the disaster on Modi’s hegemonic position in Indian politics.


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Author Information

Alf Gunvald Nilsen is a professor of sociology at the University of Pretoria. His research focuses on the politics of democracy and development in the global South.


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Table of Contents

Introduction: Modi, Authoritarian Populism and the Trajectories of a Viral Disaster; Part 1: Spectacle, Social Murder and Authoritarian Politics in a Lockdown Nation; Chapter 1: Making a Lockdown Nation; Chapter 2: A Machinery for Social Murder; Chapter 3: The War on Dissent in the Lockdown Nation; Part 2: Mirage and Reality in the Pandemic Trajectory; Chapter 4: The Modi Wave; Chapter 5: The Vaccine Spectacle; Conclusion: Future Trajectories?


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