On Covid, how Delhi turned the wheels in DC
India is expected to land the largest chunk of the vaccines donated by the United States (US), according to the allocation plan announced by President Joe Biden. It has already received upwards of $500 million in supplies and relief from the US government and the private sector, and also won the crucial backing of the Biden administration for its joint proposal with South Africa for a temporary waiver of patents to Covid-19 vaccines.
Some of this has to do with the hydroxychloroquine consignment Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi cleared for release last summer in response to a personal appeal from then president, Donald Trump. Biden has credited this gesture for the help the US has extended to India in to deal with the devastating second wave of the pandemic.
Also at work was pressure on Biden internally, from his own party, and from across the entire ideological spectrum — from the ultra-liberal progressives to establishment moderates. Leading progressives such as Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders and Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Pramila Jayapal rallied around India. They pushed the Biden administration to abandon its predecessor’s opposition to the patent waiver, which, to be noted, was in alignment with long-running bipartisan US commitment to these issues.
Establishment moderates such as Chuck Schumer, who leads the Democrat-dominated Senate as Majority Leader, called for sending India a “robust allotment” from the 80 million vaccines doses that Biden had committed to sending abroad. Other Democrats have called for it as well, as did some Republicans, though a majority of them have been relatively quiet, or just plain hostile.
There is no one explanation of how the wheels of power turn in Washington DC, but suffice it know that House and Senate lawmakers, who are the most powerful politicians in the world with millions of dollars riding on every letter in their signatures, do not write tweets and letters for the same reasons as you and me.
External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, who knows and understands Washington DC better than most Indian politicians, was effusive in his praise of the Indian mission during his recent visit, singling out the ambassador, Taranjit Singh Sandhu, for all that they have done to bolster India’s efforts to combat the second wave of Covid-19. “I must really commend the embassy and the ambassador for the enormous effort that they have put in,” said the minister, who is himself a former ambassador to the US.
Sandhu is a familiar figure on the timelines of those who follow the India-US relationship on social media platforms, hunched before a TV screen populated with smaller rectangular boxes containing some of the world’s most powerful CEOs, American lawmakers, officials, members of the diaspora, and representatives of Friends-of-India bodies. In other posts, he can be seen masked up and socially distanced in those few and far between in-person interactions. But, know this, he is just the public face of the women and men who make the mission, and they have done an outstanding job of changing the mood in the world’s most powerful capital.
The views expressed are personal
Please sign in to continue reading
- Get access to exclusive articles, newsletters, alerts and recommendations
- Read, share and save articles of enduring value