Reports on Portugal lighting up the nation’s iconic Pacos do Concelho building with the Tricolour, expressing solidarity over the second wave of Covid-19 in India, should be an eye-opener on how the world views us post-pandemic. Portugal is one of those European nations that do not find a frequent mention in the Indian media—but this time round, they could not leave that nation out.
Likewise, India’s smaller neighbours like Bhutan, Nepal and adversarial Pakistan as well have risen to the occasion, offering whatever little help they could give their giant neighbour in its hour of unprecedented and unmitigated crisis. Between these two sections, there are big players like the UK, Germany, France, Russia and Singapore, who have all met India’s open-ended SOS with all the help that they could air-lift, almost without second thoughts.
Not long ago, a section of the nation’s social media had projected India’s ‘Vaccine Maitri’ mission, of rushing out Covid assistance beginning with our smaller neighbours, as an opportune display of the nation’s capabilities coupled with intrinsic compassion, as if neither existed before the time of the current government. Now, Vaccine Maitri-II has shown that independent of capabilities, compassion at least is a two-way street. Nothing more, nothing less.
Positive spin: The problem with the present leadership is that it only wants to score debating points nearer home and win a few elections. Aided and abetted by the spin doctors, the government’s supporters have believed in the unbelievable and want other Indians to do so. But that is not going to sell with the international community, who, after seven years of a laid-back assessment of India’s capabilities and ties, will be using a fine toothcomb to look at each and every one of India’s claims—on domestic and geostrategic fronts.
The government’s supporters had celebrated what the Centre named as ‘Samudra Sethu’ and ‘Vayu Sethu’, the great Indian efforts to send all kinds of medical aid and assistance to other nations, to over a ‘hundred countries’, as Prime Minister Modi proudly claimed—and rightly so. Today, the same sections are spinning another social media tale, on how India has launched Samudra Sethu-II and Vayu Sethu-II to bring large volumes of aid and assistance from nations across the world, as if it was inevitable and unavoidable, and done with seamless ease.
At the same time, the political opposition in the country too needs to remember how German leader Angela Merkel rapped us on the knuckles and said how India’s claims to be the ‘world’s pharmacy’ owed it to European largesse. Like the US and the IT/ITES sector in particular, post-War Europe found comfort and solace in outsourcing medicines manufacture and many others to Third World nations like India—keeping their conscience also in the clear. And the ‘Third World’ is where the world may keep India all over again, after our handling of the second wave.
Rising like a phoenix: If the world is rushing aid to India, it does not owe exclusively to the gory picture that their media have painted over our nation’s second wave. It owes also to their governments’ independent assessments that the Indian second wave could spread across their lands, too, though not many of them are saying it in the open. Leaving aside their having to turn to China and Russia for vaccines now, some neighbourhood nations have also identified their second wave as the ‘Indian variant’.
India now needs to rise like the proverbial phoenix, quick and fast, if the world has to accept the nation’s intrinsic worth as an emerging superpower. It needs to convince itself and the world that unlike the forgotten self-reliance agenda of an earlier generation of national leadership, Modi’s Atmanirbhar is not just a catchy slogan for his domestic audience. In doing so, our current leadership too needs to remember that if their post-Independence predecessor did not resort to chest-thumping, their fatalistic instincts had also told them that chest-beating could not be far away, after all!
N Sathiya Moorthy
Distinguished Fellow & Head-Chennai Initiative, Observer Research Foundation