Author : Harsh V. Pant

Originally Published 2021-04-26 08:30:43 Published on Apr 26, 2021
Biden administration's response will haunt US-India ties

The world is facing an unprecedented crisis. When other parts were facing an acute health challenge, the so-called Hindu nationalist government in India stepped up to the plate. New Delhi reached out to all those who needed help and despite its own challenges, rose to the occasion in helping others who perhaps were in need of more support. Notwithstanding domestic critics and political backlash at home, the 'hyper nationalistic' Modi government opened its purse strings and hearts for others. With South Africa, it even worked at the WTO for the dilution of intellectual property rules in tackling COVID-19, only to be opposed by the richest and the most powerful.

And now we have a so-called 'progressive' liberal administration in the US, eulogized by the liberal media and intelligentsia, which is struggling to even empathize with Indian concerns. This is the time when Indians need help – help in managing the pandemic, in the vaccination process, and in enhancing national capacities to fight the menace of this viral outbreak more effectively.

American policymakers are responding to an Indian request for help by suggesting that "it is not only in the US interest to see Americans vaccinated, but it is in the interests of the rest of the world to see Americans vaccinated." And this is the administration we are supposed to accept as the harbinger of the global liberal order.

It was supposed to deliver us from evil – one that supposedly Donald Trump embodied. But Trump never shied away from articulating his priorities. Biden and his liberal supporters would have us believe that the new administration is relaunching America. America is back, they said and Indians are now left wondering how. This dispensation was supposed to make global supply chains more resilient and less dependent on China. Yet, Washington’s policies and posture have signaled unambiguously that it can't be relied upon for that either. Many partisan operatives in India had even hoped that Biden’s liberalism could even be used to target the Modi government.

President Joe Biden and his predecessor Donald Trump’s invocation of the war-time Defence Production Act (DPA) is aimed at prioritising domestic production of COVID-19 vaccines so as to tackle the pandemic in America. It is the prerogative of each nation to decide how it wants to use its own internal resources to fight its own battles and in some ways, the health pandemic made it imperative for most states to turn inwards. All nations, including the US and India, have made choices privileging their own citizens over others. But not taking others into account at all when things at home have stabilised while others are suffering is a strikingly new feature of the "progressive" Biden administration. It has not only rebuffed any suggestions about the need to share its huge supply of vaccine doses with the rest of the world but with its restrictions on the supply of raw materials has ensured that global manufacturers are left scrambling.

The Serum Institute of India had urged US President Joe Biden to lift the embargo on the export of raw materials in order to scale up production of the COVID-19 vaccines it is making in India, arguing that the restrictions have halved the number of doses that SII can stockpile. At the official level as well, New Delhi has been repeatedly raising with the US the need to lift restrictions imposed on the export of critical raw materials and equipment but to no avail. The first virtual summit of Quad leaders in March had talked about the need for four nations to work together in vaccine production and delivery but when it came to the crunch, all India has received from the US is a stunning silence or worse convoluted defence of an indefensible policy.

What is also striking is the absence of a largescale outrage that accompanied every word that Trump muttered. The silence of the ‘progressives’ in the US in the face of America’s outrageous policy, not towards India but towards the wider world, underscores how vacuous and selective the outrage of this group is. There is pressure building on Washington now. The US Chamber of Commerce, for example, has asked the Joe Biden administration to release millions of AstraZeneca vaccine doses “in storage” to India, Brazil, and other countries in need. Yet the wider silence in the US will be felt in India and the world long after this crisis has ended.

These are tough times for India but they too shall pass. Indians will eventually fight back this catastrophe with their own resilience. India and the US too will work together on a range of issues where their interests converge in the future. But next time when so-called ‘progressives' from the US start preaching to the world about human rights and normative values, the target audience would know how to ignore it with the contempt that it so rightfully deserves.

This commentary originally appeared in CNBCTV18.

The views expressed above belong to the author(s). ORF research and analyses now available on Telegram! Click here to access our curated content — blogs, longforms and interviews.


Harsh V. Pant

Harsh V. Pant

Professor Harsh V. Pant is Vice President – Studies and Foreign Policy at Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi. He is a Professor of International Relations ...

Read More +