The chief regret must be that it took a few vital days for President Joe Biden’s America to respond to India’s double whammy, specifically a potentially mortal shortage of medical oxygen and vaccines against Covid. After the criticism over Washington’s initial silence, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Mr Biden achieved a remarkable measure of diplomatic forward movement on Monday, first with their telephone call and followed by America’s pledge on “steadfast support for the people of India”, affected by the surge in Covid cases.
The situation today is far worse and, therefore, more chilling than what it was exactly a year ago. The afflictions have hit a record high both in terms of case-count and deaths each day. On the anvil is a swathe of US emergency assistance, notably oxygen-related supplies, vaccine materials and therapeutics, according to a White House statement.
The fact that it was issued soon after the Modi-Biden phone call makes it pretty obvious that medical assistance was at the core of the interaction. “India was there for us, we will be there for them,” President Biden is reported to have tweeted. It bears recall that the United States had been criticised by India for its feet-dragging in responding. It had even ignored a request for lifting the freeze on the export of raw materials linked to the manufacture of vaccines.
Additionally, the US Surgeon-General Vivek Murthy revealed on Twitter that America plans to share AstraZeneca doses with the world. “Globl pandemics require global cooperation,” is at the core of his message. There is a diplomatic background to the ModiBiden phone call. It happened in the immediate aftermath of the US National Security Adviser, Jake Sullivan’s telephone conversation with his counterpart, Ajit Doval.
“Just as India sent assistance to the United States as our hospitals were strained early in the pandemic, the United States is determined to help India in its time of need,” was Mr Sullivan’s message. The Prime Minister’s telephone interaction with President Biden can now be rated as the high watermark of bilateral relations.
The latter conveyed solidarity with India and affirmed that the United States was determined to support India’s efforts by quickly deploying resources such as therepeutics, ventilators and identifying sources of raw materials for the manufacture of Covishield vaccines.
Mr Modi has pledged India’s commitment to contain the pandemic through what they call Vaccine Maitri, and its participation in Covax and the Quad Vaccine initiatives. The situation is grave with a deadly resurgence of Covid, dearth of medical oxygen and vaccines, not to forget the chaotic election campaigns by the political class. A nation on the edge will need many helping hands.