In the sixties, India became the begging bowl of the world. Famine had left the country unable to feed its own people. Indira Gandhi was not one to tolerate global insults. She started the green revolution because of which the granaries of the country are full today.
India aspires to be a world leader. When floods ravaged Pakistan in 2010, it gave the country $ 25 million. Billions of lines of credit have been extended to countries like Bangladesh. India has spent over $ 3 billion to build Afghan infrastructure that is expected to fall into Taliban hands once the Americans leave and the US-backed Ghani government collapses.
The Afghan investment may or may not be a wise investment, but it has certainly earned India considerable goodwill in the halls of the powers that still really and primarily matter in the world, those of Washington, DC. India gave the impression that it was doing all it could to win a permanent seat on the UN Security Council.
But the world took India, and no permanent seat came. India has not lost heart. This would greatly contribute to UN peacekeeping missions. It would become a net donor of aid (not counting development aid). He would refuse foreign aid for floods, earthquakes and tsunamis. India had become self-sufficient. He would give aid to an adversary like Pakistan but refuse to accept it from him. It sounded a bit rude there, but when did Indian foreign policy towards its adversaries not sound a little rude?
The pandemic hit the world in early 2020 and India launched its Vaccine Maitri program, in effect vaccine diplomacy around the world. He sang that he was the world’s pharmacy and the world’s largest vaccine maker. He sent drugs to places like the United States. Thanks to draconian lockdowns, he has curbed the virus in his country. Then he lifted the guard. The virus has attacked 1.4 billion people. Images from around the world showed cremation grounds packed to the brim.
India did not know where to look. Initially, the United States was reluctant to provide raw materials for vaccines, but when the scale of the crisis hit, it turned the tide. The Westerners canceled their plans to visit India for a year. Indian billionaires have fled to London and Dubai for safety. Note that when the pandemic hit America, American billionaires had only sought help in distant American states like Wyoming. Our class of billionaires, they are a class apart.
Our pharmaceutical companies, which would supply vaccines to the whole world, could hardly meet any demand in India. It was a total and shameful effort. Has India Learned From The Crisis? Will it continue to rely on chalta hai et jugaad and meander as a self-proclaimed world power? Will he finally instill in his people a work ethic that the Prime Minister of the country, whatever his other perceived flaws, has?
Now we are saying that we will increase vaccine production to deal with future pandemics. Well, pandemics like Covid and the Spanish flu of a hundred years ago only happen once a century. More likely, when the crisis subsides in India, everything will go back to how it was before. I remember a friend who before his IIT exam said that he would not be preparing for it that year but would wait until the next year. The future has always looked bright to him. He was always ready to sacrifice the present. He never achieved an IIT.
If not now when? This is the question Indians must ask themselves. The reality that Indians are not ready to accept is that the world has left India behind. It’s not just America and Europe. It’s not just China that is leaving the whole world behind. It’s not just countries like Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia. Just take a look at the horizons of the capitals of each of these respective countries: Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta. It’s even South Asian countries like Sri Lanka and can you believe it, Bangladesh.
The pandemic has exposed India as a state that since independence has been unable to provide its people with adequate food and water, health care and mobility. The Prime Minister launches an appeal from the ramparts of the Red Fort to slow down the population explosion, which, according to him, cancels all the gains of the country, but few care to pay attention to it. Take her pearls of wisdom from one ear and pull them out with the other.
Yes, a few, very few have become rich, ultra-rich and it is they who consider their lives and those of their loved ones to be the most precious in the world. They are the ones who fly to London and Dubai to take refuge against the pandemic. The Indian diaspora is one of the largest in the world with around 30 million people. The Diaspora responds to India’s needs whenever India encounters trouble, but the Diaspora suffers from donor fatigue. First, the elite classes in India view the Diaspora as mercenaries who left India for greener pastures abroad.
Then the diaspora also feels compelled to help their adopted lands in their own time of turmoil. Frankly, very often the adopted land is much more grateful than the homeland. The homeland simply waits without accepting. The adopted land doesn’t expect so much and even accepts for a little help. The pandemic must change the mentality of Indians in India. But will he do it? I doubt.
The opinions expressed above are those of the author.
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