May 09, 2021

India Pays a Heavy Price for Modi’s Futile International Image Building Desires

B Arjun

INDIA is in the midst of the world’s worst outbreak of Covid-19 cases. It is a dystopian nightmare. The new cases and death toll are continuously rising. The medical response is hampered by shortages of oxygen, drugs, and hospital beds. According to experts, “The significant inefficiency, dysfunction and acute shortage of healthcare delivery systems in the public sector do not meet the growing needs of the population.”

The overwhelming surge of infections has sent major cities of India back into lockdown dealing a big blow to the economy, which had just started limping back to normal after the devastating after-effects of last year’s lockdown.

But Modi government, intoxicated on poll-pill, is clueless about managing the resurgence in infections.  The large chinks in India’s health system are clearly visible. This becomes unpardonable mainly because the government has refused to learn from the experiences of several countries over the past year that has managed to control the Covid-tide. 

Millions spent on building Modi’s international image and his endless foreign visits over the last few years have failed to make India look beautiful to the outsiders. The world is fixated on the devastating images and heart-wrenching stories of hopelessness flowing out of India - burning funeral pyres,  graveyards, and crematoriums chock-a-block with dead bodies, people dying on pavements from scarcity of oxygen.

But despite all this, the Modi government is only concerned about fudging the number of Covid cases and deaths resulting from viral attacks. All major foreign newspapers and TV channels have unanimously criticized Modi government’s gross negligence and utter incompetence in ignoring warning signs, holding an extended election in West Bengal, and not canceling the Kumbh Mela.

The worst is the Modi’s government's response to criticism. It stands accused of attempting to control the narrative with legal orders to delete Twitter posts critical of its response. All it wants to do is launch worldwide global propaganda to counter the true journalist's accounts coming out from Indian crematoriums and hospitals. External affairs minister, S Jaishankar has told the Indian ambassadors and high commissioners posted across the world to vehemently counter the “one-sided” narrative in international media — that prime minister Narendra Modi and his government had failed the country by their “incompetent” handling of the second  Covid-19 wave.

Australia’s top newspaper, The Australian, in its article, titled: ‘Modi leads India into a viral apocalypse’ wrote”  “Arrogance, hyper-nationalism and bureaucratic incompetence have combined to create a crisis of epic proportions in India, with its crowd-loving PM basking while citizens suffocate.” The Indian High Commission rebuttal accused The Australian’s coverage of India’s Covid crisis “motivated and malicious reports” helping in “spreading falsehoods” and urges the paper to “refrain” from publishing “such baseless” articles. It is reported that the newspaper has refused to oblige the Indian government.

Australia, India’s partner in QUAD, a  strategic grouping of democracies, led by America banned Australians stranded in India, from entering the country.  Canberra has also announced it would jail anyone who attempts to return from India for five years or impose a fine of $51,000 on the offender.

India’s most favoured international partner, the United States has also announced a ban on entry of non-citizens or non-residents if they have been to India in the past 14 days on account of rising Covid-19 cases. The US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)  has advised its government, that the variants of Coronavirus that are prevalent in India “have characteristics of concern, which may make them more easily transmitted and have the potential for reduced protection afforded by some vaccines”.

The fact is Modi’s incompetence and lack of concern about the health sector have made India economically vulnerable.  It has made India look pitiable, an object of sympathy.  Countries are offering support, not because of Mr. Modi’s so-called global image, but it is largely because they feel that the people of India are trapped and are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance. 

Not only has the government been shortsighted but it has also pursued an ill-planned vaccine strategy. The Supreme Court has found that the central government’s  current vaccine policy is flawed and the “manner in which the current policy is framed is detrimental to the right to public health as provided in Article 21 (Right to Life) of the Constitution.”

From the very start, the Modi government was keener on earning a few diplomatic brownie points. It launched the Vaccine Maitri initiative to gift COVID-19 vaccines to neighboring countries, on 20 January. In March the celebrations were on in the media brandishing the success of  Indian’s vaccine diplomacy.  It was reported, “India has supplied vaccines to at least 50% of the Least Developed (LDC) countries and one-third of the Small Island Developing (SID) countries”.

Modi forgot that his priority was 130 crore Indians. He simply let New Delhi send 80.75 lakh doses as a gift and roughly 339.67 lakh doses on a commercial basis. In addition, 165.24 lakh doses were sent as a part of the Covax mechanism under the aegis of the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation. Modi government was happy selling to the Indian public that Indian manufacturing, US technology, Japanese and American financing, and Australian logistics capability had conjoined to deliver “up to one billion doses to the Indo-Pacific countries, and beyond by the end of 2022.” This represented a total lack of understanding of the pandemic and the way it was mutating in other parts of the world. For the Indian economy to move on it was imperative that the Indian population was vaccinated first. However, prime minister Modi thinks that he has already conquered Indian and he is on a mission to conquer the world.

The situation is that the Indian vaccine supply line has slowed. Countries like South Africa are having doubts about the Indian ability to supply them with the requisite doses in time. Russia and China the two countries that India wanted to beat have moved much ahead in distributing vaccines around the world.  Russia is feeding vaccines to some 70 countries, in Asia, Eastern Europe, and Latin America. China has exported vaccines to 90 countries and COVAX, a global vaccine-sharing initiative, is hampered by the Indian crisis.  

Modi’s penchant to impress the Western leadership and his desire to showcase New Delhi as the best counterweight to Beijing has led him to indulge in diplomatic extravagance. Sadly, Modi continues to be afflicted by delusions of grandeur, little does he understand that his far from looking like a great power many are once again seeing India as a poor third world country that needs aid.