Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee Research Foundation

India’s New Multilateralism and Aid Diplomacy in a Covid World

Over the past few years, the world has become increasingly globalized and interdependent, with power shifting gradually to multiple poles. Paradoxically, multilateralism has been in recession and the beneficiaries of globalization have been driving populist agendas, asking for a move away from the very principles on the basis of which they rode to success. Covid -19 has brought the fragility of multilateralism to the forefront, and exposed all its fault lines. The sharpening of contradictions between the two primary poles – United States and China have in fact paralyzed the United Nations and its institutions like the WHO into inaction in tackling a global pandemic which threatens all countries on planet earth today in myriad dimensions.

India has emerged as an active leader amid the Covid 19 disarray. India’s Prime Minister Modi has positioned India as a caring and humanitarian leader in this crisis, shipping medical and food supplies to countries in need, and helping with medical teams, urging the SAARC, G20 and the nonaligned movement to act, and galvanizing a response from the Bretton Woods institutions.

Speaking at the NAM virtual Summit, PM Modi called for solidarity “In the post Covid world, we need a new template of globalization, based on fairness, equality and humanity”. PM Modi has also conducted a number of bilateral virtual meetings including with leaders of countries like Australia, Russia, Israel, Israel, Japan, France, Germany, Indonesia, Singapore and other ASEAN states, UK Ethiopia and other African countries, the South Asian and Gulf nations and the United States. During the calls with French President Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, there were commitments made to “a new human – centric concept of globalization”.

Prime Minister Modi and the Ministry of External Affairs reached out to as many countries as possible in the early days of the Covid crisis. As a result, the current effort is on to supply drugs, testing kits and other medical assistance to 67 countries.  India has, in response to further requests, decided to ramp up its medical assistance effort to help 90 plus countries over the next few weeks.

This effort is being made in addition to the supply of drugs and equipment to various countries on commercial terms. Of the 67 countries who are subject to the current effort, India has already delivered consignments in 29 countries spread out over the South Asia region, the Indian Ocean, the Gulf, Central Asia and even remote Latin American countries like Dominican Republic and Ecuador. Six more African countries have received hydroxychloroquine and paracetamol drugs. This effort has been made against all odds when transportation links are affected, and domestic procurement channels and logistics have been under a lockdown. The Indian naval ship, INS Kesri has been used to ferry medical teams, medicines and supplies to countries in the Indian ocean like Maldives, Mauritius, Madagascar, Comoros and Seychelles. Two medical teams on board have been specially chosen for Mauritius and Comoros.

In the immediate neighborhood, India has committed medical aid including essential antibiotics, Covid -19 protection gear and testing kits. Nearly 40% of the assistance has been delivered, and the rest will reach before 18 May. Apart from medical aid, India has sent teams of medical Rapid Response Teams to Kuwait and Maldives and is conducting webinars to train personnel in other countries and extend technical assistance in other formats.

Procurement and delivery of medical assistance to about 50 additional countries including 28 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, and 12 countries in Africa is on the cards. Countries in other regions such as Madagascar, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Armenia, Jamaica, Uzbekistan, Malta, Lao PDR and Comoros will also be beneficiaries. India has also pledged 10 million Hydroxychloroquine tablets to 67 countries out of which 21 countries, have already become beneficiaries. Some request shave been received in addition from 13 African, 7 west Asian and north African countries, and 16 countries from other regions of the world.

Prime Minister Modi has brought back to the forefront the need for international institutions to promote human welfare, alongside economic growth.

India has established credibility on this score due to its championing of initiatives like the International Day of Yoga, the International Solar Alliance, and the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure.

(The Author is Former Ambassador to Italy, Poland, Oman and Thailand & Former Secretary (East) Ministry of External Affairs, Distinguished Fellow, VIF. Views expressed are personal.)