covid vaccine 1

What is foreign policy worth if it stands disconnected from domestic realities? The limelight falls instead on the US’ point blank refusal to lift the ban on supply of ingredients for manufacture of vaccines… As for China, this isn’t quite the occasion to write about it, but truth be told. Suffice to say, the Indian narrative on Sino-Indian tensions is skating on thin ice today and it increasingly looks like a trumped-up alibi to form an alliance with the US. 

***

The German Chancellor Angela Merkel has faulted India for not fulfilling its obligation to supply Covid-19 vaccines to Europe. The Politico paper quoted Merkel as saying,

“We now have a situation with India where, in connection with the emergency situation of the pandemic, we are worried whether the pharmaceutical products will still come to us. Of course, we have only allowed India to become such a large pharmaceutical producer in the first place, also from the European side, in the expectation that this should then also be complied with. If that is not the case now, we will have to rethink.”

Alas, Merkel’s legendary flair for the minutiae of facts while articulating opinions is absent here. But the sadder part is that the Modi Govt misled her, as it misled the UN and the domestic opinion, regarding India’s capacity to supply vaccines after meeting its own needs.

Of course, the root problem here is the Modi Govt’s obsessive rivalry and one-upmanship vis-a-vis China, to display that India is shining better than China. It is a futile effort, as an original is always worth more than a copy.

For a start, Prime Minister Narendra Modi committed a grave mistake by publicising India as the “world’s pharmacy”. 

From that point, India was hurtling down the hill for an inevitable train crash. Such bombastic imagery may work at election rallies but not in international diplomacy where the actor is held to account. Nothing damages a country’s reputation than boyish insouciance and caprice.

In reality, India has very limited capacity to make Covid-19 vaccines. The Wire has featured an excellent analysis of the actual state of play. The facts and figures are revealing. And the conclusions drawn are startling:

  • The government created a bogus misperception internationally that it will be the bulwark of COVID-19 vaccines for poor countries.

For, India’s high capacity is “not easily convertible to making vaccines for the COVID-19 pandemic.” Modi Govt got carried away by its own bombastic rhetoric without having “taken the trouble to inform itself of the actual capacity in the country and conducted a detailed demand-supply planning exercise – the most fundamental of all tenets of managing any supply chain.” Otherwise, it “may have realised at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic that India was woefully short of manufacturing capacity to vaccinate its own population.”

  • Having said that, the government bullied the two Indian manufacturers on pricing policy, refusing to support them with funds or even make advance payments against future supplies. The manufacturers had to stockpile at their own risk. No dramatic increase in the quantity of vaccines is to be expected in the short term.

 

  • In sum, Modi Govt was “blind-sided by its own rhetoric about not only being atmanirbharbut also a saviour of the world. It didn’t even look at the numbers and lost precious months that could have been spent shoring up domestic production capacity. Now, India has been reduced from being the “pharmacy of the world” to a “desperate seeker of imported vaccines.”

The great fiasco of demonetisation pales into insignificance. If demonetisation took away the livelihood of millions of people, the disastrous handling of vaccine supply will take a heavy toll in human lives insofar as “herd immunity” remains elusive. The government stands exposed as not only inept but less than honest, and incorrigibly egotistic to boot.

When it comes to diplomacy too, India has lost heavily. Its credibility on the world stage stands tarnished. India strutted around as the pioneer of COVAX, the WHO’s global initiative aimed at equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines. But it transpires now that India qualifies only as recipient, like Benin or Solomon Islands, and not a donor. Fortunately, this mishap isn’t yet in the limelight.

The limelight falls instead on the US’ point blank refusal to lift the ban on supply of ingredients for manufacture of vaccines. The ban came into effect on February 5. But the foreign policy establishment lacked a sense of urgency. Instead, it began tom-toming that QUAD is rushing in like a knight in armour to manufacture Covid-19 vaccines in India! Ironically, the Biden Administration is now using that baloney as America’s great contribution to its Indian ally’s vaccine production! What a hoax!

There is no shred of evidence that PM Modi raised the issue of the US’ “America First” approach on vaccines with President Biden during the Quad summit held on March 12 — full thirty-five days after the latter invoked the Defense Production Act to restrict exports of the raw materials to boost US’ domestic vaccine production. One wonders who prepares the PM’s “talking points”?

Paradoxically, the two countries that have come to India’s aid are Russia and China. Yet, the US has been twisting the Indian elbows in the recent years to atrophy India’s relations with Russia, and there has indeed been a rollback to conform to Washington’s diktat. PM no longer has time to receive a visiting foreign minister from Russia.

As for China, this isn’t quite the occasion to write about it, but truth be told. Suffice to say, the Indian narrative on Sino-Indian tensions is skating on thin ice today and it increasingly looks like a trumped-up alibi to form an alliance with the US. 

Consequently, it becomes a bitter pill to swallow to accept China’s offer of help to tide over the pandemic. The Sinophobes feel embarrassed, the US lobbyists are looking away. But the plain truth is, China happens to be the only country today that is in a position to help India to cope with the pandemic situation in a meaningful way — and it has come calling without prompting. No doubt, Modi Govt will be doing the right thing by discussing with Beijing the specific areas where China’s help can make a critical difference today to saving lives.

What is foreign policy worth if it stands disconnected from domestic realities? Make no mistake, the horrifying visuals of the human suffering in metropolitan India is only the tip of the iceberg. The vast swathes of hinterland are heaving with untold sorrows. What is 5kg chaval and dal to alleviate that suffering?

India’s foreign policies are far too militarised and “geopolitical”, and do not come to grip with the country’s real needs and requirements.

After the Mandal Commission and the affirmative action in the 1980s and the ensuing exodus of upper class children to greener pastures in the US, our elites have come to regard America as the home away from home. This elitist mania, paradoxically, has only deepened after the self-styled nationalists and their parivar took the reins of power in Delhi. 

***

Courtesy : indianpunchline, the author’s blog, posted on April 24, 2021.

Ambassador M K Bhadrakumar served the Indian Foreign Service for more than 29 years. He introduces about himself thus:  “Roughly half of the 3 decades of my diplomatic career was devoted to assignments on the territories of the former Soviet Union and to Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan. Other overseas postings included South Korea, Sri Lanka, Germany, and Turkey. I write mainly on Indian foreign policy and the affairs of the Middle East, Eurasia, Central Asia, South Asia and the Asia-Pacific…”

His mail ID : indianpunchline@gmail.com


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6 Comments

  1. Satya Vara Prasad Arundhati says:

    Very nice and well informed analysis by author who is an experienced diplomat.Neverthless wit due humility I would like to add one or two points.
    1.In India in the initial stages there was a quite deal of vaccine hesitancy.Even health care providers were hesitant to take vaccine.This is direct outcome of vaccine wars between US ,continental europe and UK.The intellectual /vaccine war subsided only after WHOs intervention.
    2.During this vaccine war cum vaccine hesitancy period India’s manufacturers were too eager to push out the piled up vaccine stocks.Indian government didnt make any attempt to over come vaccine
    hesitancy in the population. and nonchalantly allowed the stocks to be sent out to other countries,unmindful of consequences to the indian populace.There was nither sense of fraternity nor bear minimum munificence.This exportation of vaccine to other developing countries was nothing but an unadulterated business deal.
    3.Indian manufacturers and capitalists just excel in cronyism.They don’t have any qualities of independent entrepreneurial capitalism.Their political bosses are no different.As a result availablity ofone trust worthy tool to fight pandemic ie vaccine and vaccination program is in a big quandary.Long live communalo-political virus.

  2. Satya Vara Prasad Arundhati says:

    Very fine and informative analysis by the author who is an experienced expert in international affairs.How ever with all due humility i would like to add two or three points.
    1.To start with there were vaccine wars between multinational pharama companies of US,UK and Continent.It manifested in the farm of nitpicking of trial results of Pfizer,Oxford Astra Zeneca,and J&J vaccines
    2.As a result this vaccine war produced a lot of vaccine hesitancy through out the world in general, and India in particular.It was observed that reasonably well informed health care providers in India were hesitant to accept vaccine.
    3.Indias vaccine manufacturers i.e SII and Bharat Bio tech who stock piled vaccines
    Were panicky and wanted to get rid of vaccine stocks as expeditiously much alike a “Punter who developed cold feet midcourse in a race”
    4.Indian government koe towed theline of its cronys,nonchalantly unmindful of long term consequences to fight against pandemic.
    5.Thus Export of indian vaccine to other countries is born out of unholy Nexus of these crony’s and their masters.Other than this absolutely there are no finities and niceties of international diplomacy in it.
    Please excuse me if I sound very blunt.

  3. May I thank both the retired Ambassador and the science expert commenter for their much wanted and admirable critical assessments of India’s domestic, de facto vaccine reality. Taking chances with the fate of countless human lives is a red flag no sensible / meaningful politics can afford. The situation created by multinational companies was foreseeable.

    Over a year ago, in May 2020, when the warning shot of a second wave was pronounced by German Chancellor Dr. Angela Merkel’s chief virologist Dr. Drost, I predicted that the Western Big Pharma rivalries will harmfully impede the distribution of the vaccine to the world’s poor. Now it seems Big Pharma has won. Second-fiddlers like SII and Bharat Biotech are unable to deliver thanks to their dependence on “grand” Western suppliers for both knowledge and materials. Where are all the Indian Bio-Tech brains gone? We need to learn from the Russians and Chinese ! They don’t have India’s problems. Why? Russia, honestly aware of its capacity limitations, has now given Argentina the license to produce en masse SPUTNIK-V vaccine. Why had not both above Indian companies or our Central and state governments foreseen the MNC rivalry fallout at least a year ago and made the necessary arrangements to ensure the security of raw materials and equipment? It is grotesque to believe that our top scientists and technologists cannot manufacture alternative equipment and gadgets.

    Big Mouth prestige-narcissistic volleys with nationalism fervour will not win us the vaccine match. Much worse India’s reputation is now at stake as the Ambassador correctly pin-pointed. Our wise ex-PM ManMohan Ji has given the sound advice to let all players in, provided they abide by the test standards of Phase I, II and III international standards of test trials that govt. science agencies can oversee and control. Belief in the Big, this mega-thinking with prejudice colouration plus an irrational favouritism on a deadly issue like this seems to have done the govt. in. It is time our government wakes up and thoroughly re-does the Covid strategy. The Modi govt. may want to take the cue from Joe Biden that Biden won because he made Covid-19 a key election issue and has now acted upon his promise once he took his Oval Office chair.

    While the U.S. govt. has now promised India help, India must learn to stand on its own feet to tackle future emergencies like this. Time to learn from the Russians and Chinese! At least our forefathers have bequeathed us the brains for it. Are we using it?

    George Chakko, former U.N. correspondent, now retiree in Vienna, Austria.
    Vienna, 28/04/2021 05;42 am CET

  4. May I thank both the retired Ambassador and the science expert commenter for their much wanted and admirable critical assessments of India’s domestic, de facto vaccine reality. Taking chances with the fate of countless human lives is a red flag no sensible / meaningful politics can afford. The situation created by multinational companies was foreseeable.
    Over a year ago, in May 2020, when the warning shot of a second wave was pronounced by German Chancellor Dr. Angela Merkel’s chief virologist Dr. Drost, I predicted that the Western Big Pharma rivalries will harmfully impede the distribution of the vaccine to the world’s poor. Now it seems Big Pharma has won. Second-fiddlers like SII and Bharat Biotech are unable to deliver thanks to their dependence on “grand” Western suppliers for both knowledge and materials. Where are all the Indian Bio-Tech brains gone? We need to learn from the Russians and Chinese ! They don’t have India’s problems. Why? Russia, honestly aware of its capacity limitations, has now given Argentina the license to produce en masse SPUTNIK-V vaccine. Why had not both above Indian companies or our Central and state governments foreseen the MNC rivalry fallout at least a year ago and made the necessary arrangements to ensure the security of raw materials and equipment? It is grotesque to believe that our top scientists and technologists cannot manufacture alternative equipment and gadgets.
    Big Mouth prestige-narcissistic volleys with nationalism fervour will not win us the vaccine match. Much worse India’s reputation is now at stake as the Ambassador correctly pin-pointed. Our wise ex-PM ManMohan Ji has given the sound advice to let all players in, provided they abide by the test standards of Phase I, II and III international standards of test trials that govt. science agencies can oversee and control. Belief in the Big, this mega-thinking with prejudice colouration plus an irrational favouritism on a deadly issue like this seems to have done the govt. in. It is time our government wakes up and thoroughly re-does the Covid strategy. The Modi govt. may want to take the cue from Joe Biden that Biden won because he made Covid-19 a key election issue and has now acted upon his promise once he took his Oval Office chair.

    May we at this point take a leaf from the pages of Evolution theory. The Father of Evolution; Charles Darwin, wrote over 100 years ago “It is not strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.” It is true of animals as much as of human beings today, including those in politics!! Our PM may want to take a note of that wisdom !

    While the U.S. govt. has now promised India help, India must learn to stand on its own feet to tackle future emergencies like this. Time to learn from the Russians and Chinese! At least our forefathers have bequeathed us the brains for it. Are we using it?

    George Chakko, former U.N. correspondent, now retiree in Vienna, Austria.
    Vienna, 28/04/2021 07;27 am CET

  5. May I thank both the retired Ambassador and the science expert commenter for their much wanted and admirable critical assessments of India’s domestic, de facto vaccine reality. Taking chances with the fate of countless human lives is a red flag no sensible / meaningful politics can afford. The situation created by multinational companies was foreseeable.

    Over a year ago, in May 2020, when the warning shot of a second wave was pronounced by German Chancellor Dr. Angela Merkel’s chief virologist Dr. Drost, I predicted that the Western Big Pharma rivalries will harmfully impede the distribution of the vaccine to the world’s poor. Now it seems Big Pharma has won. Second-fiddlers like SII and Bharat Biotech are unable to deliver thanks to their dependence on “grand” Western suppliers for both knowledge and materials. Where are all the Indian Bio-Tech brains gone? We need to learn from the Russians and Chinese ! They don’t have India’s problems. Why? Russia, honestly aware of its capacity limitations, has now given Argentina the license to produce en masse SPUTNIK-V vaccine. Why had not both above Indian companies or our Central and state governments foreseen the MNC rivalry fallout at least a year ago and made the necessary arrangements to ensure the security of raw materials and equipment? It is grotesque to believe that our top scientists and technologists cannot manufacture alternative equipment and gadgets.

    Big Mouth prestige-narcissistic volleys with nationalism fervour will not win us the vaccine match. Much worse India’s reputation is now at stake as the Ambassador correctly pin-pointed. Our wise ex-PM ManMohan Ji has given the sound advice to let all players in, provided they abide by the test standards of Phase I, II and III international standards of test trials that govt. science agencies can oversee and control. Belief in the Big, this mega-thinking with prejudice colouration plus an irrational favouritism on a deadly issue like this seems to have done the govt. in. It is time our government wakes up and thoroughly re-does the Covid strategy. The Modi govt. may want to take the cue from Joe Biden that Biden won because he made Covid-19 a key election issue and has now acted upon his promise once he took his Oval Office chair.

    May we at this point take a leaf from the pages of Evolution theory. The Father of Evolution; Charles Darwin, wrote over 100 years ago “It is not strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.” It is true of animals as much as of human beings today, including those in politics!! Our Pradhanmantri may want to take a good note of that wisdom, considering the fact that the progressive stages of Sage pratyahara, dharan, dhyana and samadhi are attestation to that evolution in India’s great yogic philosophy as laid down by sage Patanjali in his Ashtanga Yoga!

    While the U.S. govt. has now promised India help, India must learn to stand on its own feet to tackle future emergencies like this. Time to learn from the Russians and Chinese! At least our forefathers have bequeathed us the brains for it. Are we using it?

    George Chakko, former U.N. correspondent, now retiree in Vienna, Austria.
    Vienna, 28/04/2021 07;27 am CET

  6. GEORGE CHAKKO says:

    Despite repeated postings, this comment below was not published. May I know why?

    May I thank both the retired Ambassador and the science expert commenter for their much wanted and admirable critical assessments of India’s domestic, de facto vaccine reality. Taking chances with the fate of countless human lives is a red flag no sensible / meaningful politics can afford. The situation created by multinational companies was foreseeable.

    Over a year ago, in May 2020, when the warning shot of a second wave was pronounced by German Chancellor Dr. Angela Merkel’s chief virologist Dr. Drost, I predicted that the Western Big Pharma rivalries will harmfully impede the distribution of the vaccine to the world’s poor. Now it seems Big Pharma has won. Second-fiddlers like SII and Bharat Biotech are unable to deliver thanks to their dependence on “grand” Western suppliers for both knowledge and materials. Where are all the Indian Bio-Tech brains gone? We need to learn from the Russians and Chinese ! They don’t have India’s problems. Why? Russia, honestly aware of its capacity limitations, has now given Argentina the license to produce en masse SPUTNIK-V vaccine. Why had not both above Indian companies or our Central and state governments foreseen the MNC rivalry fallout at least a year ago and made the necessary arrangements to ensure the security of raw materials and equipment? It is grotesque to believe that our top scientists and technologists cannot manufacture alternative equipment and gadgets.

    Big Mouth prestige-narcissistic volleys with nationalism fervour will not win us the vaccine match. Much worse India’s reputation is now at stake as the Ambassador correctly pin-pointed. Our wise ex-PM ManMohan Ji has given the sound advice to let all players in, provided they abide by the test standards of Phase I, II and III international standards of test trials that govt. science agencies can oversee and control. Belief in the Big, this mega-thinking with prejudice colouration plus an irrational favouritism on a deadly issue like this seems to have done the govt. in. It is time our government wakes up and thoroughly re-does the Covid s tegy. The Modi govt. may want to take the cue from Joe Biden that Biden won because he made Covid-19 a key election issue and has now acted upon his promise once he took his Oval Office chair.

    May I at this point take a leaf from the pages of Evolution theory. The Father of Evolution; Charles Darwin, wrote over 100 years ago “It is not strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.” It is true of animals as much as of human beings today, including those in politics!! Our PM may want to take a good note of that wisdom, considering the fact that even in yogic philosophy that Modi is a follower of, the progressive stages of pratyahara, dharana, dhyana and samadhi are attestation to that evolution in Sage Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga!

    While the U.S. govt. has now promised India help, India must learn to stand on its own feet to tackle future emergencies like this. Time to learn from the Russians and Chinese! At least our forefathers have bequeathed us the brains for it. Are we using it?

    George Chakko, former U.N. correspondent, now retiree in Vienna, Austria.
    Vienna, 28/04/2021 19:30 hrs CET