With fresh Covid cases exceeding 3 lakh for the sixth day in a row, and more than 2,000 deaths for the seventh consecutive day, India’s health infrastructure is gasping for oxygen. It’s therefore welcome that the US has sprung into action with President Biden pledging full support for India’s Covid fight, in a phone conversation with PM Modi. In fact, the full spectrum of the American machinery has been mobilised, with defence secretary Lloyd Austin saying that he had directed the Pentagon to use all available resources to support the US inter-agency effort to assist India.
Similarly, US secretary of state Antony Blinken met with leaders of the US business community and the US India Business Council to mobilise support for India. In fact, around 40 top American companies have come together to create a first-of-its-kind global task force for India to provide it with critical medical supplies, vaccines, oxygen and other life-saving assistance. Meanwhile, raw materials are being shipped from America to the Serum Institute to ramp up vaccine production.
All of this indicates the strength and durability of the US-India relationship – after an initially slow response in India’s grave hour of crisis when US messaging was off. Those bilateral and institutional connections need to be leveraged at this hour of crisis. And if the US wants to work with states and other institutions across the country instead of channelling all aid through the PMO, New Delhi shouldn’t make it a sticking point in negotiations. Indeed, given India’s size, decentralised disbursement is likely the quickest and broadest way to channel aid across the country.
India and the US can, as a matter of fact, work together for the benefit of the Indo-Pacific region as a whole – as was envisaged during the Quad summit – where US capital, technology and logistics capabilities are married to Indian vaccine production capacities. The Hyderabad-based vaccine manufacturer Biological E getting US funding to manufacture the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is a good example of such cooperation. The case for such cooperation isn’t just moral but also practical – if the US focusses on fighting Covid within its borders alone while the disease rages unchecked in India and other parts of the developing world, sooner or later disease variants will make their way back to the US and the Western world. Let’s allow Indian and American institutions to directly work together in tackling Covid instead of permitting red tape to bog them down.
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.
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