2020, the year of rats as per Chinese culture has sure given us a lesson in being agile, acutely aware and alert just as the animal. But more importantly, it has provided us with another significant lesson in the power of exponentials as we try to warp our heads around the supposed fact of how one Chinese man’s dinner in Wuhan has resulted in losing close to 0.1 million lives and hurting more than 1.9 million people and their families across the world.
Although the world has dealt with pandemics previously with SARS, H1N1, Ebola etc., none have had a worldwide impact such as COVID-19 due to the interconnectedness of the world today. As Bill Gates rightly pointed out in March 2015, microns and not missiles were more likely to claim human lives in the coming decade and given the minuscule investment to build systems to tackle an epidemic, global cooperation and action could be the only answer to our worst fears.
However, we are witnessing blame games between China and USA on who is responsible for the outbreak, we see China being opaque as ever and flouting norms prescribed by the World Health Organization (WHO), we have Washington reducing funding to WHO and instead diverting funds from aid programs to military forces, and regional nationalists riding on the pandemic to support their anti-globalist themes in Europe.
In times such as these when threat looms above each individual in every country; shared responsibility, global cooperation and solidarity may be the only path to viable solutions. In this regard, India’s Prime Minister — Narendra Modi’s efforts to manage the crisis so far and balance domestic issues with his global responsibilities must be acknowledged. India has acted expeditiously and demonstrated the active and assertive nature of its foreign policy.
While New Delhi continued to fight from the front and manage its own internal crisis, it showcased its prowess and its commitment to the world’s cause and recently opened up supplies of hydroxychloroquine to USA, Brazil and other countries.
At home, the regular public addresses to the nation by the Prime Minister regarding the pandemic have been received positively and largely succeeded in providing hope grounded in truth to the 1.3 billion population. The Indian Government took (and continues to) requisite steps at all levels and managed to not only come up with innovative solutions such as using its railway infrastructure (the largest in the world) as make-shift quarantine hubs, but leveraged its science and technology capabilities and developed efficient tests for COVID-19 indigenously in a record 6 weeks. As India showed authentic concern to the vulnerable and provided relief packages to the poor within, it simultaneously launched a regional cooperation program and pledged USD 10 million towards an emergency SAARC fund and even managed Pakistan’s attempt to politicize the attempt by bringing up the Kashmir issue through its categorical statement that the region must respond to the pandemic by “coming together and not growing apart”.
While Modi was the first leader to call upon a virtual G20 summit to “advance coordinated response to the COVID-19 pandemic and its human and economic implications”; New Delhi also created an information exchange platform (IEP) to facilitate real-time exchange of expertise among South Asian health professionals, sent its defence medical team to Maldives to help deal with the pandemic and supplied medical equipment to Bhutan.
It is pertinent to note that in the run-up to the pandemic, many countries were seen opting for a nationalistic regime and moving towards deglobalization in the face of the hastened erosion of trust in political narratives and institutions, and geopolitical struggles around.
Yet in the face of this fragile and grave situation, we realize that public systems worldwide need to be strengthened and that can only mean more comprehensive and collective action at the global level. And the current crisis has largely served as a test for the world’s leaders, revealing weaknesses and fractures that exist within our world today. Europe has been in a state of complete disorder where its healthcare systems have been pushed to the brink, Brazil has been unscientific calling it a “fantasy” or a “little flu”, USA has been all over the place and opted to let go of control over the situation for temporary gains on market indices and China has exhibited irresponsible behavior in masking early cases.
While the crisis has clearly assessed that global leadership is in short supply; it has also served as an opportunity for display of India’s calibre, competence and diplomacy. India’s administration has put out a cohesive leadership arrangement and chartered a path for multilateral collaboration to deal with an unprecedented situation having far-reaching and wide-ranging implications.
With the established Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC) Programme and the Development Partnership Administration (DPA), which aims to support capacity building and provide development assistance to partner countries through training, consultancy, deputation of experts abroad, line of credits, aid for disaster relief, etc.; India has the necessary tools and the will to emerge as a beacon of light at this critical juncture and possibly lead us into the much awaited Asian century.