NEW DELHI: “In these days of covid-19 pandemic, health service is the most important service," says a video posted on Twitter on Friday by the Polish Ambassador to India Adam Burakowski. “On behalf of myself and my country, many many thanks to India and Indian doctors for their work," he further adds in his message in Hindi.
The message sums up India’s so called “medical diplomacy" that has been working in overdrive at a seemingly unprecedented scale.
The different elements of this new brand of diplomacy includes issuing speedy clearances for the export of the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine – seen as useful in the treatment of patients suffering from the novel coronavirus – at the last count to 55 countries. Most notably, the list includes four permanent members of the UN Security Council -- US, Russia, France and the UK, besides some 20 countries of Africa and many of India’s immediate neighbours. Then there are countries like Brazil and Peru besides the Dominican Republic. While India is gifting the medicines to 31 countries, the remaining 24 are exports on a commercial basis. To despatch the consignments, New Delhi is using Air India aircraft and Indian Air Force flights for India’s immediate neighbours. In the case of other countries, the consignments are being sent by commercial couriers.
A second element has included the despatch of teams of Indian military doctors to countries like Nepal, the Maldives and Kuwait to help local administrations draw up plans to combat the spread of the SARS-CoV2 that causes covid-19.
Then there has been online training organised for health care professionals in South Asia and other neighbouring countries on covid-19 management strategies and related aspects, said two officials familiar with the matter.
There have been high level contacts at regional and multilateral levels – at the insistence of India. And these include a virtual summit of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) countries and a similar meet of the leaders of the G-20 countries.
Last, but not the least, has been the phone calls between prime minister Narendra Modi and world leaders in the past few weeks.
“From the very beginning of this crisis, the government from the top level has been outward focused as much as inward looking, as compared to many other prominent nations of the world that have been only inward looking," said Harsh Pant, a professor of international relations at the London-based Kings’ College. “There has been internal consolidation as well as external outreach," he said pointing to efforts like the G-20 leaders’ meet or the SAARC leaders meet. “The outreach has been extensive to the outside world," he said adding that this was a departure from the past when India tended to look at itself with its relative shortcomings in focus. According to Pant, the Modi government’s strategy is “part of its larger foreign policy matrix to project India as a responsible global stakeholder."
India lending a helping hand to countries in the midst of the covid-19 crisis comes in the midst of countries around the world questioning the role played by China – in exporting much needed protective gear and testing kits that some governments have reportedly found faulty. Then are have been questions about whether China has been fully transparent about the emergence and the spread of the SARS-CoV2; Beijing says it has but is facing criticism on that front.
India’s moves therefore juxtapose it with China in this context, Pant added.