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India’s Medical Diplomacy as Soft Power in the Midst of Covid 19 Pandemic

Updated: Jun 6, 2020

Honey Raj

India’s medical diplomacy is certainly going to be a ‘game-changer’ in the post-COVID scenario.

With the Coronavirus cases approaching nearly 5 million (, the whole world is coming together to fight this global pandemic. India under the abled and dynamic leadership of Narendra Modi is at the forefront to fight this critical situation by supplying medicines, a team of doctors and medical equipment to the countries in need, along with rescue operations for stranded foreign nationals in India. The country of ancient medical science is now the World's leading pharmacy. India has been promulgating its Sanskrit saying of ‘vasudhaiva kutumbakam’ i.e. the world is one family. Its humanitarian aid are being hailed as lifesaving gesture and have garnered much praise around the world. WHO has also applauded India's efforts in combating the situation. India's medical diplomacy has led it to emerge as a responsible and dependable international power during a time when several other well-established international powers have struggled.

India has emerged as an active leader at this time of pandemic disarray. Narendra Modi has positioned India as a caring and humanitarian friend in this crisis. From SAARC to G-20 countries, India has actively taken part in addressing the situation effectively. Speaking at the NAM Virtual summit, PM Modi urged that "In the post COVID world, we need a new template of globalization based on fairness, equality, and humanity.” German Chancellor, Angela Merkel compared the new commitments made to "a new human-centric concept of globalization". Prime Minister through the Ministry of External Affairs has reached out to as many countries as possible in supplying essential drugs, testing kits, and other medical assistance. Till now 67 countries have received their orders and 29 countries have got their full consignments spread out over the South Asian region, the Indian Ocean, the Gulf, Central Asia, and even remote Latin American countries like Dominican Republic, Ecuador, and six African countries. In response to further requests, India has decided to ramp up its medical assistance to 90 plus countries. New Delhi's diplomatic outreach is expected to cost 1 billion dollars. Apart from the medical assistance, India also carried out rescue operations of the citizens of Israel, Iran, and other countries. This effort has been made against all odds due to the non-functioning of international flights and restricted movement of domestic goods due to lockdown. Indian Navy ship, INS Kesri has been used to ferry medical teams, medicines, and other supplies to the island countries in India Ocean such as Maldives, Madagascar, Mauritius, Comoros, and Seychelles.

India's efforts to combat this pandemic have garnered ample praise from across the globe. "Extraordinary times require even closer cooperation between friends. Thank you, India, and the Indian people, for the decision on HCQ. Will not be forgotten. Thank you, prime minister, Narendra Modi for your strong leadership in helping not just India, but humanity in this fight". These were the words of praise by the American president Donald Trump in his tweet to Narendra Modi. Brazilian President Bolsonaro drew a parallel to "Hanuman jee" for providing 'Sanjeevni Booti' and saving the lives of its citizens. Benjamin Netanyahu hailed India's effort in sending the requisite consignment in no time.

India has cemented its position as World's superpower. Western media has taken a new diversion on India's image. Its perception is being hailed and discussed as a life savior.

India's humanitarian gesture is certainly going to bear fruits in the post-COVID economy. American gratitude towards India, though not selfless, could also mean further bolstering of the relationship. America is among the few countries that are conducting its trial over the vaccine. So, this may also result in India's early access to COVID 19 vaccine. It would also strengthen India's position in the trade deal negotiations. This could also benefit Indian pharma companies. In yet another unprecedented move, The US Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) has recently cleared the manufacturing facilities of four Indian pharmaceutical companies. Lupin, Biocon, Strides pharma sciences and Dr. Reddy's Laboratories in March received the FDA'S green signal for their plants. Dr. Harsh Vardhan’s appointment as WHO executive board chairman highlights the diplomatic victory for India. This also means that India would now have a larger role to play in international public health.

Both America and China are at loggerheads with each other over the spread of this deadly virus. It gives an opportunity to India to attract more foreign companies. Easing out norms in FDI could also mean more US investment soon. In India, around 122 million have lost their jobs in both organized and unorganized sectors due to the pandemic. This figure could be corrected in the post-COVID economic plans.

On political front India is going to claim its position in the UNSC as a permanent member and it is likely to be supported by the major superpowers of the World. India’s goodwill gesture has been applauded by Gulf countries as well. The West Asian region has always remained as prime importance to India due to its rich oil and natural resources. The humanitarian aid is likely to soften Arab countries' hard stand towards CAA and NRC. India is likely to garner more support in resolving the border disputes with its neighboring countries, especially China and Pakistan. India’s medical diplomacy is at the crossroads with China’s mask diplomacy which has been found faulty and is likely to be rejected by other countries. This gives India an opportunity to consolidate its power in Asia in countering China.

India’s medical diplomacy is certainly going to be a ‘game-changer’ in the post-COVID scenario. Since China continues to dominate WTO and WHO, India should look for supply-chain commitments and make ‘coherent policies’ to counter it in the future. India has always believed in foreign policy that takes care of its neighborhood countries but now it is also looking for cooperation from the extended neighbors. The global pandemic presents India an opportunity to engage with other countries to strengthen its hold. India, by supplying important pharmaceutical drugs that have been on demand in various countries, has solidified its drug manufacturing capabilities. The world will not remember what weapons they were supplied with but the humanitarian aid to save thousands of lives, which is a real asset for any country. In the words of Chanakya, “A man is great by deeds not by birth. We should not fret for what is past nor should we be anxious about the future; men of discernment deal only with the present moment”. This is what Narendra Modi is doing in relishing the present and securing India’s golden future ahead.

The author is Ph.D. research scholar, Central University of Jharkhand, Department of Politics and IR and is an intern at Academics4nation.



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