Participating in the BRICS Foreign Ministers virtual meeting earlier this week, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar underlined that India has been providing pharma assistance to nearly 85 countries on a grant basis to help them tide over the Covid-19 pandemic. India’s external engagement even during this time of a global health crisis has been quite substantive and its ‘medical diplomacy’ in particular has highlighted the critical role India plays in the global health matrix.
From the very beginning, Prime Minister Narendra Modi seemed convinced that though the domestic situation would clearly be a priority with some tough measures in the offing, India will have to continue to make a case for global engagement and coordination. By calling for a virtual summit of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) countries and pushing for a similar meet of the leaders of the G-20 countries, Modi managed to energise the various regional and multilateral engagements, which at one point seemed rudderless.
Most countries were preoccupied with their internal crisis management and did not deem global engagement a priority. It was this leaderless void that India tried to fill. It even offered to evacuate people from all the neighbouring countries while bringing back Indian students from the Chinese city of Wuhan in the early stages of this pandemic. Since then Modi and Jaishankar have been engaged with global leaders across the world on a regular basis.
By calling for a virtual summit of SAARC countries, Modi energised the regional and multilateral engagements, which at one point seemed rudderless. (Photo: Twitter/ @PIB_India)
Beyond these diplomatic engagements, India has tried to live up to its title of “the pharmacy of the world” by exporting the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) around the world. Though the US President’s alleged ‘threat’ to India over its export ban on the drug HCQ generated a lot of headlines, the decision to allow the export of HCQ on a case-by-case basis had already been taken before that. From the developed world to Africa and Latin America, India is gifting this much in demand drug to some nations while selling it to others with the supplies being made through special Indian Air Force flights, foreign evacuation charters, and even diplomatic cargo.
New Delhi has also deployed its medical professionals in its global health engagements. Indian military doctors have been sent to countries such as Nepal, the Maldives and Kuwait to help them with the local management of the viral pandemic. The Indian medical staff has also been conducting on-line training for their counterparts from other SAARC countries, thereby helping them in building their essential capacities.
Despite some negative stories emanating from the Gulf, India’s medical diplomacy with the region has been one of the most substantive, partly to stave off the possibility of a mass exodus of its expatriates. The Modi government, from the top, has been in regular contact with all Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries that, together, host over 50 lakh Indians and send back remittances worth over $40 billion every year. After several Gulf countries requested the supply of medicines such as HCQ and Paracetamol, India has tried to ensure steady supplies to these nations.
The Indian response has been much appreciated globally as is evident from the tweets of various global leaders. But beyond that, it also sharpens the fault lines between China and India and their global outlooks.
China’s global engagement, even during this time of crisis, has been arrogant, aggressive and irresponsible. After its initial mismanagement of the crisis, its efforts to emerge as a global medical supplier have been disrupted by concerns about the quality of its medical supplies. On top of that, it has been ratcheting up pressure on vulnerable nations in its periphery as well as entering into diplomatic spats with nations who are challenging its narrative. New Delhi, meanwhile, has been quietly focused on tackling the immediate aftermath of the Covid-19 crisis, trying to help others within its own limitations and building a larger global consensus.
Facing the challenge
From the beginning of this crisis, the Modi government has been outward focused and compared to most other major powers it recognised the need for global engagement. This extensive global outreach has been a departure from the past when India tended to look at itself as a nation with limited ability to shape global outcomes.
The new outward orientation is in tune with New Delhi’s larger foreign policy approach aimed at projecting India as a responsible and reliable global stakeholder. India’s proactive approach during this crisis, whether in terms of setting the global agenda or evacuating people in distress from the most infected areas to using its pharma heft for the global good, will have a long term impact on how the world views India. Indian response may not have been perfect but it has certainly underscored that when needed, India can certainly rise up to the challenge of managing global crises with a sense of purpose.
(Courtesy of Mail Today)