Preserving a friendship: The United States was wrong. But it is now helping and India should stay focused and leverage all the help it can get from the US.
In the last two days, there has been a high-level attention to the issue, culminating in President Biden’s phone conversation with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday night (REUTERS)
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At a time of distress, friends matter. And it is disappointing when a friend does not instinctively reach out and help, and, instead, may even add to the distress. As India got hit by the second wave, this is what happened with the United States (US) — when it was seen as blocking the export of raw materials essential to ramp up vaccine production or sitting on unused vaccines or not offering medical resources India needed to fight the pandemic. This may have been due to a range of reasons — America’s isolationist foreign policy impulse (which has got reinforced because of the politics of ultra-nationalism), or a ruthless and insensitive decision-making matrix blind to suffering elsewhere, or its slow internal decision-making process, or its own trauma of pandemic leading to hoarding all resources available to fight Covid-19, or India’s mixed messaging, or all of the above. The US came across as unreliable, even when antagonistic countries offered support. This led to a ground-up backlash, and rightly-so, against Washington.
The good news is that the Joe Biden administration listened to feedback — communicated by its own diplomats, Indian interlocutors, the diaspora, prominent Indian and American think-tanks, sections in the Hill (where even some critics of the current government in Delhi worked to voice India’s case), media reports, and social media. This was not just a support package at stake — the entire relationship and perceptions of the US in India were at stake. And in the last two days, there has been a high-level attention to the issue, culminating in President Biden’s phone conversation with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday night. The US has committed to providing emergency assistance, “including oxygen-related supplies, vaccine materials, and therapeutics”. It has also announced a plan to share its stock of 60 million AstraZeneca vaccines, of which India will be a beneficiary. The good thing is it did not make it sound like a favour but acknowledged the Indian assistance to the US in its time of need.