The Indian government is harvesting the returns of a solid, result-oriented, foreign policy outreach across the world. The US has shipped ventilators, oxygen concentrators and medicines worth half a billion dollars to India. The UK, Russia and other nations have also lent their shoulder in India’s battle against curbing the coronavirus.
Even as President Joe Biden has weighed in to support the waiver of intellectual property rights (IPRs) for COVID-19 vaccines, in a sharp reversal of the US stand till recently that such exemptions from the TRIPS regime were not on the table, there has been an outpouring of support from his government, US industry and people of Indian origin in the US.
At last count, total US support to India has totalled more than half a billion dollars, prompting Mukesh Aghi of the US India Strategic and Partnership Forum (USISPF) to compare it to the Berlin Airlift of 1945, when Allied forces kept West Berlin supplied with food and other essential supplies for ten-and-a-half months in face of a Soviet blockade of Berlin. Though the circumstances are very different, the humanitarian intervention tells a story of democratic solidarity.
Saying that the support is likely to touch $1 billion by the end of the month, he told PTI: “It is emotional for the diaspora, almost everyone has someone who has been touched by Covid-19.”
Indian Ambassador to the US Taranjit Singh Sandhu also expressed gratitude for the support provided by the US. “There has been overwhelming support and offers of assistance from the US Government, private sector, diaspora and the American public at large. In fact, in my interactions in recent days, the US interlocutors across the board ask me, ‘Tell us what more we can do for India’,” he told PTI.
“They recall with fondness the help India gave (during the first wave of the Covid pandemic). These are reflective of strong partnership and close people to people ties between our both nations. We deeply appreciate these gestures. We will continue to engage with the US in our collective fight against the pandemic,” he added.
The US support includes thousands of oxygen concentrators, ventilators and hundreds of tonnes of live saving drugs, including Remdesivir and other emergency medical supplies.
Meanwhile, many of India’s traditional friends like the UK and Russia are also stepping up their support for India’s battle against the Covid-19 pandemic.
This Sunday, the world’s largest cargo aircraft, the Russian-built Antonov AN 124-100, landed in New Delhi with life saving equipment such as oxygen generators from the UK, which were cleared by Delhi Customs in 25 minutes – probably a record.
The British High Commission in New Delhi tweeted on Sunday: “The UK sends life-saving support for India in the world's largest cargo plane. Three oxygen generation units arrived in India today. Each capable of producing 500 litres of oxygen per minute. It will help save lives and support India's healthcare system.”
The oxygen generation units, each the size of a 40 ft container, can produce 500 litres of oxygen per minute – sufficient for treating up to 50 people.
Acknowledging the support, MEA spokesperson Arindam Bagchi tweeted: “Taking forward our comprehensive strategic partnership, consignment of 3 oxygen generators and 1,000 ventilators arrives from the UK... Deeply value the contribution from our close friend.”
Help has also poured in from India’s traditional all-weather friend Russia, which sent about 20 tonnes of supplies last week in two aircraft operated by a government agency that oversees civil emergency services in Russia. The supplies comprised mainly oxygen concentrators, ventilators and medicines.
Russia delivered 20 tonnes of supplies early in the morning on Thursday. This consisted primarily of oxygen concentrators, ventilators and medicines.
“Two urgent flights operated by the Russian Emercom arrived today, which brought cargo with a total weight of 20 tonnes. These are oxygen concentrators, lung ventilation equipment, monitors, medicines and other essential pharmaceutical items," Russian ambassador to India Nikolay Kudashev said.
The US private sector, with which India has deep and wide ranging ties, has also stepped in to provide assistance. Google has pledged $18 million, while aircraft maker Boeing and financial services giant MasterCard have pledged $10 million each even as a Global Task Force, which has CEOs of leading US companies as members, has pledged $30 million of life saving equipment.
Biden, who had spoken with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the last week of April to express solidarity with the Indian people in their fight against the Covid pandemic, had tweeted then: “Just as India sent assistance to the United States as our hospitals were strained early in the pandemic, we are determined to help India in its time of need.”
So, even as the issue of a TRIPS waiver on vaccines needed to fight the Covid-19 pandemic winds its way through the labyrinthine corridors of the WTO, the battle against the virus is being joined on the ground not only by the full might of the Indian state but also by its friends and allies around the world.
Prime Minister Modi’s hark back to the ancient Indian dictum of Vasudeva Kutumbakam (The world is my family) as a basic tenet of India’s diplomatic outreach to the world is paying India rich dividends in its time of need.