The Indian Vaccine Maitri: Diplomatic Masterstroke
India’s selfless & swift response to the need of the world has earned laurels and this moment will go down in history as to how India was the saviour of a world
By Abhilash Halappanavar
The Indian Ethos
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has often stated that the core of Indian diplomacy is based upon the precept of ‘’Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’’ (The World is One Family). When the COVID-19 pandemic laid siege on the globe, the Union Government of India stressed the need for a global alliance to fight the calamitous jolt to the general health and economy of the world. In the spirit of the above, Prime Minister Modi chaired a virtual meeting of SAARC leaders on the 15th of March 2020. A SAARC reserve fund was started to combat the pandemic, with India contributing a sum of $10 million.
Turning the Adversity into an Opportunity
World organizations like the United Nations & World Health Organization (W.H.O) were unsuccessful in guiding the world in the time of the COVID-19 induced crisis. The UN Security Council (UNSC) which was being chaired by China in March 2020 did not congregate as China feared it being held accountable because China did not want questions to be raised on its actions and secrecy after the virus first erupted in Wuhan and spread across the globe. But Indian activism in the developmental arena and humanitarian diplomacy has acted as the panacea to the world.
In the beginning and at the peak of the pandemic, India ramped up production for the export of important drugs like paracetamol & hydroxychloroquine, which was welcomed by its partners across the world that badly needed it at that time. Along with the drugs India also responded to the global shortage of Ventilators, Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) kits and medical masks. An important fact being that in the beginning stages of the Coronavirus pandemic, India’s mass production capacity to manufacture such medical equipment was trifling. The Indian government quickly realized the need to elevate the country’s production capacity to cater to both rising domestic and international demand for medical equipment.
India’s Vaccine Power
India’s science and technology expertise was tested globally in 2020 with the advent of the Corona Virus pandemic. The Union government of India has in the past few months started its ‘Vaccine Diplomacy’ called “Vaccine Maitri”, this initiative of India has been appreciated by many countries affected by the pandemic. As the world’s largest manufacturer of generic drugs, the country has long viewed itself as the pharmaceutical hub for the developing world. India has been producing 60 percent of all vaccines manufactured on the planet. By the last week of February, India had shipped 361.94 lakh doses to different countries of which 67.5 lakh doses have been supplied as grant assistance and 294.44 lakh under sale contracts.
The vaccine diplomacy also aims to increase India’s influence in the South Asian region. In accordance with the Indian government's Neighborhood First’ policy articulated by Narendra Modi, Bhutan and Maldives were the first two countries to receive 150,000 and 100,000 vaccines respectively from India, on January 20, 2021. Bangladesh and Nepal received two million and one million doses subsequently. Myanmar received 1.5 million doses, Seychelles 50,000 doses, and Mauritius 100,000 doses respectively.
Countervailing the Chinese Influence
The above-mentioned countries have one thing in common that is they all are in obligation to China in one way or the other and India’s Vaccine Maitri aims to win over the countries in South Asia already indebted to China. India unlike China does not have the economic reserves which Beijing has deployed for reckless infrastructure projects in South Asia. But India being the Pharmacy of the world, in addition to being the world’s largest democracy is smartly out manoeuvring China’s designs to take the lead in offering cheap vaccines of the novel Coronavirus thereby increasing its soft power and influence in the region. The Bangladesh Health minister appreciating India’s grant of 2 million vaccine doses said that India had stood by his country during the Liberation War of 1971 as well as during the COVID-19 pandemic. India’s grant vaccine doses in South Asia is a function of its strategic priorities. As the regional hegemon, India is watchful of China’s increasing security and economic ties with many of India’s immediate neighbours.
India has not competed with China’s multi-billion-dollar debt trap to small South-Asian countries under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), but India is outsmarting China through its healthcare diplomacy. India’s outreach and China’s overreach have curtailed China’s vaccine influence in the South-Asian region. An example of this is, even amidst the rising tensions with India, Nepal’s Minister of Health and Population recently acknowledged India’s goodwill in granting the 2 million doses to Nepal.
India’s selfless & swift response to the need of the world has earned laurels and this moment will go down in history as to how India was the saviour of a world by rolling out millions of vaccine doses as aid despite the huge domestic requirements for its own population. While the world is witnessing the expansionist & aggressive stance of China, the humane and soothing touch of India, in stark contrast to China, is very much visible to the world. In the changing global landscape, the remedial and protective actions by India through the supply of Indian made Covishield manufactured by Serum Institute of India and Covaxin manufactured by Bharat Bio-Tech will have a huge impact in advancing peace, prosperity & co-operation in India’s neighbourhood and the world.
India continues to be the first responder to humanitarian crises in the region, as it did in response to the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami and now the Coronavirus pandemic. India's Vaccine Maitri’ initiative has further emboldened its image as the troubleshooter in times of crisis. Given the scale at which the COVID-19 impacted India, the manner in which India from being a victim has bounced back as a messiah to the ailing world. The “Vaccine Maitri” will definitely go down as a watershed moment in India’s history.
Abhilash Halappanavar is a Junior Fellow at Usanas Foundation. His area of interest is defence and technology.
Disclaimer: This paper is the author’s individual scholastic contribution and does not reflect the organisation’s viewpoint.