OVER THE past seven years Indians have watched Narendra Modi’s neat hair and trim beard grow ever whiter and longer. There was no way to miss the change, because there was no escaping the prime minister’s image. He was everywhere: on television snipping ribbons, waving to adoring crowds and grappling foreign leaders; on posters doling out subsidised cooking gas or cheerleading for pilgrimages to Hindu holy sites; and even, in recent months, gazing benignly out of vaccination certificates next to the words “Together, India will defeat covid-19”.

Yet, as covid casualties climbed and then rocketed up in mid-April, the omnipresent Mr Modi started fading like the Cheshire Cat. One month on, newscasts still tell of “top level” prime-ministerial meetings, but without accompanying footage. His ever less frequent speeches sound droning and perfunctory. The billboards persist, but that is because under lockdown there is no one to paste over old advertisements. And those vaccine certificates grow rarer because fewer people are getting the jab: Mr Modi’s government has failed to procure enough doses.

This story first appeared on economist.com