US averts potential diplomatic fallout to help India fight Covid surge

US averts potential diplomatic fallout to help India fight Covid surge
Workers loading oxygen cylinders in the truck for a refill at Government hospital, amid rising coronavirus cases across the country. “The US is determined to help India in its time of need with the Covid-19 surge,” President Biden tweeted.Courtesy: ANI

After an initial tepid response to India’s request for supplies of vaccine raw materials and other medical supplies, the Biden administration has decided to urgently dispatch medical assistance to New Delhi. This highlights the success of deft diplomacy as well as the strong bipartisan support that Indian enjoys in the US.

After much hesitation and following strong bipartisan calls in Capitol Hill, the Biden administration has woken up to the damage its benign neglect of India’s request for urgently needed Covid relief material was causing to the bilateral relationship.

Following several high-level meetings in Washington, the US has decided to immediately provide raw materials for Covid-19 vaccines, medical equipment, ventilators, oxygen concentrators, PPE kits and other emergency equipment needed by India to counter an exponential spike in Covid cases.

“The US is determined to help India in its time of need with the Covid-19 surge,” President Biden tweeted.

Initial reluctance was fraying public support for the US in India

This comes in the wake of several US lawmakers impressing upon the Biden administration that its inaction on India’s request was fraying the hard-won public support in India for closer ties between the two countries.

With this, and possibly more actions to follow, the Biden administration has, for the moment, managed to iron over the first wrinkle that seemed to appear in bilateral ties since the new government took office in Washington in January this year.

‘The US is determined to help India in its time of need with the Covid-19 surge,’ Biden tweeted following the US decision to ship raw materials for vaccines and other medical supplies.

The change in the US administration’s stance couldn’t have come at a more opportune time for India, where surging Covid cases are threatening to overwhelm the healthcare system.

Washington had earlier rejected India’s request

Only 48 hours ago, the US had rejected India’s request for emergency supplies of key ingredients that go into making vaccines that are being used to treat Covid citing its domestic requirements. “We have a special responsibility to the American people,” the US State Department spokesperson had said, explaining the reluctance of the Biden administration to bail out a country that emerged as one of the US’s closes strategic and military partners in the crucial Indo-Pacific.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks during the First Quad Leaders’ Virtual Summit in the presence of US President Joe Biden. Bipartisan pressure from both Democratic and Republican lawmakers seems to have brought about a change of heart in the White House.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks during the First Quad Leaders’ Virtual Summit in the presence of US President Joe Biden. Bipartisan pressure from both Democratic and Republican lawmakers seems to have brought about a change of heart in the White House.Courtesy: ANI

Deft diplomacy carries the day

But talks between Indian Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar and his American counterpart Anthony Blinken and separate negotiations between Indian Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla and US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, along with strong bipartisan pressure from both Democratic and Republican lawmakers seems to have brought about a change of heart in the White House.

“Our hearts go out to the Indian people in the midst of the horrific Covid-19 outbreak. We are working closely with our partners in the Indian government, and we will rapidly deploy additional support to the people of India and India’s healthcare heroes,” Blinken tweeted.

Talks between Jaishankar and Blinken, along with bipartisan pressure from Democratic and Republican lawmakers seems to have brought about a change of heart in the White House.

US stance had caught experts by surprise

The initial stance of the Biden administration effectively turning a blind eye to India’s call for help had caught New Delhi’s diplomatic and strategic community by surprise as bipartisan commentators in both countries have been dubbing the India-US bilateral relationship as the “defining relationship of the 21st century”.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Indian foreign minister Dr. S Jaishankar worked through discussions to arrive at a point where the US realised the enormity of the crisis in India and agreed to dispatch crucial aid.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Indian foreign minister Dr. S Jaishankar worked through discussions to arrive at a point where the US realised the enormity of the crisis in India and agreed to dispatch crucial aid.Courtesy: Reuters

This seemed to fly in the face of the increasing strategic and military convergence between India and the US, under both the Congress-led UPA and the BJP-led NDA governments in India as well as under both Democratic and Republican administrations in Washington, the close cooperation under the aegis of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue and the close interoperability that the military forces of the two countries have developed in recent times.

There were very real apprehensions that the US government’s lukewarm response to India’s health crisis could lead to a serious erosion of public support for the larger Indo-US bilateral relationship, especially as countries like China and Pakistan, which are not usually well disposed of towards India, have already offered to pitch in and help.

This was considered all the more glaring as India had delivered HCQ and paracetamol supplies to the US when the Trump administration had requested the same, even diverting some stocks from its domestic market.

The initial stance of the US turning down India’s call for help had caught experts by surprise as analysts have dubbed the India-US bilateral relationship the ‘defining relationship of the 21st century’.

Microsoft, Google also pitch in

Meanwhile, two of the world’s leading technology companies, Microsoft and Google, have joined the chorus of support for India. Their Indian origin CEOs Satya Nadella and Sundar Pichai, respectively, have pledge support for efforts to augment the US government’s efforts to help India deal with this medical emergency.

“Devastated to see the worsening Covid crisis in India. Google & Googlers are providing Rs 135 crore ($18 million) in funding to @GiveIndia and @Unicef for medical supplies, orgs supporting high-risk communities and grants to help spread critical information,” Pichai tweeted.

Nadella tweeted: “I am heartbroken by the current situation in India. I’m grateful the U.S. government is mobilizing to help. Microsoft will continue to use its voice, resources, and technology to aid relief efforts, and support the purchase of critical oxygen concentration devices.”

So, deft diplomacy, strong bipartisan support and robust backing from the American corporate sector for India have helped avert what could have been diplomatically embarrassing situation for both countries.

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