On March 25, Narendra Modi reminded India that war in the Mahabharata was won in 18 days. The war against the coronavirus, he said, would take 21 days.

Modi’s experiments with untruth are now established. In my last job, we created a website that recorded his dubious claims over five years from 2014. It’s a long list, and you can explore all of Modi’s dodgy assertions here.

It is unfair to single out Modi. His friend Donald Trump has a similar aversion to the truth, as do many strongmen around the world, and lies have been used to considerable effect by not just demagogues but democrats. They have served the good and the bad. But history reminds us that lies and popularity are not enough to elevate a leader to greatness – which Modi certainly seeks – much less unify diverse, fractious countries and advance them towards prosperity.

Consider the example of Canada, Germany and the US (before Trump), known today to India as prosperous lands, democracies united by the rule of law, an agreeable national character, and mostly moderate politicians. This is not how it always was.

Divided Canada

In the early 1940s, Canada was deeply divided between French and English speakers and fragmentation appeared a distinct possibility. In...

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