In a television debate, BJP spokespersons were gloating over the international support pouring in to tide over the grave crisis the country is steeped in. The anchor, a government supporter, began by building a narrative that the instant support flowing in to India is the result of the vaccine diplomacy New Delhi had successfully launched a few months ago. It is New Delhi’s achievement to be able to draw in so much of solidarity support. Baffling it is to see the hubris and half-baked understanding of the ruling party spokespersons about diplomacy and politics.
The BJP team is so carried away in defending their leadership that they forget the nuances of politics and the gravity of the situation. They confuse sympathy with solidarity, and pity with power. They overlook the deaths, destruction and despair the virus has caused, and become overjoyed with the promise of international support.
I told them it is like a villager saying, “my house may be on fire for my lethargy and mismanagement, but look at the goodwill I enjoy of my fellow-villagers, they are all giving a hand in dousing it’’. One of the spokespersons was singing eulogy of the Prime Minister; it is normal, Narendra Modi is invincible, infallible and a divine for his supporters, he could do no mistake. The spokesperson was ranting about the record number of vaccinations done under Modi’s able leadership which is 14 crores plus. But that is out of 138 crores, which is just 10 per cent of population. This is when India is the worst hit by the second surge in the world.
Yet, the devotees of Modi would say this is a unique feat in covid times accomplished by our Prime Minister. I told her, “God forbid, if our country was first one to perish in the apocalypse or a cataclysm, you as a spokesperson would say, look, under the dynamic and perceptive leadership of Modi, the PM, we were the first country in the world to go”. This is exactly the case now; we are the worst off at present under this pandemic.
Humanity still exists in the world. So, the countries with resources and know-how will come up to help others in humanitarian crises affecting whichever country in the world even if the aggressive and authoritarian China seeks help, other countries would come forward. In our crisis, even Pakistan came forward to extend support by offering to send ambulances etc. One may argue that Pakistan’s offer of help could also be driven by malafide intentions in order to embarrass India. Or it could be a genuine step to help in a health disaster.
Another spokesperson was going on about how India is critical to global geo-politics. How important it is as a market for so many countries. The world could not afford to see India go down. Also, we are not begging for support, we have earned it as a reciprocity. It is our right to claim support when we need it. Again, that is arrogance of inferiority complex or both.
Without any political rancor, we have to save lives that are being lost for want of oxygen or a vaccine. We need to give hope to people that they can survive the pandemic. We need to save them from dying of the disease or of destitution. In this battle against the dreadful virus, any help that comes should be acknowledged and appreciated. We neither boast that we are worthy of support and undermine people’s goodwill, nor do we feel slighted in seeking support. We have been generous to countries, so they are. That is how the world should run in goodwill, interdependence and solidarity.
Scanning the support coming from the countries, the United States took time to extend support. Out of anxiety for their own citizens who were worst-hit in the first wave of the virus, they were stocking vaccines and other medical supplies three to four times more than they really need. When the domestic pressure grew on President Joe Biden to support India, he relented and opened up to doing his best for India. He got his National Security Advisor and Secretary of State to talk to their counterparts and organise the delivery of support. It is also learnt from the media that business houses in the US mainly from the Indian Diaspora have formed a consortium to help India combat Covid.
Emergency supplies such as Oxygen concentrators, PPE kits and medicines needed for SOS treatment have been promised by other countries like the United Kingdom, Germany, Singapore, Japan and even China. Supplies have begun to reach India too. Countries like Japan have agreed to collaborate in augmenting the manufacturing capacities in India for vaccines and other medical equipment.
As governments of several countries are readily supporting India, the media and the civil society are scathing in their criticism of the government of India for the sheer scale of the tragedy, which is causing an estimated 20,000 fatalities daily. Covid patients are dying on the streets without an oxygen cylinder and a bed in the hospital. Professor Madhukar Pai, a global health expert at McGill University in Canada, said, “it was devastating to see things get this bad in India. It is a perfect storm really”. Some invoke the Roman anecdote; Modi was like emperor Nero who was fiddling when Rome was burning.
An Australian Newspaper was by the most ruthless. It carried a photograph of a man running past the funeral pyres of the people who died from Covid-19 at a mass cremation in New Delhi, last Monday. It captioned the photograph, “Ostriches don’t bury their heads in sand, Indian government does”. The title of the article was equally lacerating, “Modi leads India into viral apocalypse.” It said, “arrogance, hyper nationalism and bureaucratic incompetence have combined to create crisis of epic proportion in India, with its crowd-loving PM basking as the citizens suffocate”.
Country after country has banned any flight from India which was only six months ago feted as the vaccine guru and the pharma hub of the world. The bubble burst sooner than later as the Prime Minster began to wallow in the praise and sent out the vaccines to other countries. Good gesture of solidarity and humanitarianism. But Modi forgot the famous maxim that charity begins at home. Or he should have expanded the manufacturing capacities of the companies producing the vaccines.
To sum up, the world powers will perhaps continue to help India get out this terrible tragedy. But Modi should begin to calculate his political costs for poor preparedness, skewed priorities of governance and mismanagement of the second surge. His aspirations to become a world leader has got a beating. He would also do well to remember the fate of his friend Donald Trump, another populist leader, who perished in the presidential elections last year for his denial and later discredited handling of the pandemic.
Be that as it may, Modi will have to repair his own image and that of the country by taking swift actions to arrest the spread of the virus and saving those infected with it. That is the call of the hour.