India was right to export HCQ to US. Here’s why | Opinion
Just as the HCQ decision does not take care of all past favours, it will not unlock a bottomless treasure trove of goodies. But its significance for the relationship cannot be overstated, as Trump himself acknowledged on Wednesday.
The Narendra Modi government did well to lift export restrictions on certain drugs, especially hydroxychloroquine (HCQ), the anti-malarial drug that United States (US) President Donald Trump has touted as a game-changer in the fight against the coronavirus disease. Even though the drug’s efficacy against the deadly pathogen remains scientifically unproven, if it helps save lives, as Trump and some of his advisers have contended, letting US orders go through is the right thing to do on humanitarian grounds. This is presuming India did not dip too deep into its own reserves.
Equally important perhaps are the implications for the bilateral relationship. Americans have for long been very clear that while they may seem, and have been, genuinely supportive and generous with India, they don’t expect to see the relationship run like a charity. There is an expectation of returns, pay back — reciprocity, as Trump likes to put it. No administration, Republican or Democratic, has been less or more transactional; the current dispensation is avowedly more.
Anyone who doubts that should check the archives to learn of the outpouring of indignation in 2012 when India overlooked the bids of two US companies for 126 medium multi-role combat aircraft. The Americans had expected to win the multibillion-dollar contract — among other things, as an expression of gratitude from India for the civil nuclear deal signed four years before, that ended India’s nuclear isolation.
There have been constant reminders then of India’s voting record at the United Nations (UN), that does not align with US interest (guess what, not so surprisingly India has voted mostly in line with its own interest). Americans express a sense of hurt that this is so despite the growing relationship and all that the US does for India at the UN, especially to block or fend off the Chinese on a range of issues, including shaming it last year and getting it to agree to designate Masood Azhar a terrorist.
Just as the HCQ decision does not take care of all past favours, it will not unlock a bottomless treasure trove of goodies. But its significance for the relationship cannot be overstated, as Trump himself acknowledged in a thank-you tweet on Wednesday.
In the short-term, can India expect to be an early beneficiary of the vaccines that are either undergoing clinical trials in the US or are about to? More than two dozen pharmaceutical companies are racing to find a vaccine; two of them got off the starting line just this past Wednesday.
Human trials began on one in Seattle in mid-March, which could hit the markets next year. Gilead Sciences’ investigational drug, remdesivir, has been called the most promising of antiviral treatments on the way. India might also need ventilators and other medical supplies that are being cranked out or repurposed in American manufacturing facilities.
In the longer-term, Indians will feel most reassured by the president’s promise that their gesture of goodwill at this time of grave crisis for the US “will not be forgotten”.