is a senior Indian journalist who has been the editor of national dailies like Mid Day, Hindustan Times (Delhi and NCR editions) and Mail Today. Follow him on Twitter @abhijitmajumder
Epidemics hold no sex appeal for politicians. For a terror attack, an economic blockade or a flying enemy missile, others can be blamed — but if you mismanage the outbreak of a killer virus, voters will only blame you.
Yet, all over the world politicians are directing blame wherever they can over the mayhem coronavirus has wreaked. Italian politicians are busy fighting one another, US President Donald Trump has pointed the finger at his predecessor Barack Obama — and China and Iran have accused Trump’s America itself of unleashing the virus. Amidst all the chaos, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has taken a different approach to the Covid-19 crisis.
India’s PM quickly initiated a video conference with fellow South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) leaders and pledged $10 million to set up a Covid-19 emergency fund for a rapid response team of doctors to serve the entire region. He also proposed a video link-up for G20 nations to unitedly tackle the epidemic. British PM Boris Johnson and Australian PM Scott Morrison immediately lauded his effort and promised to join.
One move, many outcomes
Modi managed to achieve several things with this stroke of disease diplomacy.
First, when most nations have been busy shutting out the world over the endemic, India has opened up a new window of international collaboration against the real common enemy: a lethal virus. Even Modi’s many critics and adversaries will find it hard to disrespect or dismiss his effort.
Second, it enhances India’s global soft power, taking it beyond Gandhi, yoga and Bollywood. It gently re-establishes India’s place as a benign force and an ancient nation which has believed in leading with compassion rather than brute force. It is in many ways Gandhian itself. But more importantly, it is a throwback to the old, harmonious diplomatic approach when the Indian civilisation extended far and wide around the Indian Ocean in the east and up to Afghanistan in the west.
Third, while the western mainstream media and certain leaders have been ruthlessly and hypocritically targeting India and trying to tarnish its image globally over a new citizenship law and the Delhi communal riots, Modi’s outreach to the immediate neighbourhood and the world in a time of crisis should do away with some of that criticism.
Yet, Western media’s hitjobs on India have not ceased. Outlets like The Independent, Foreign Policy and Deutsche Welle will instead hand-pick news about irrational, inconsequential nutjobs (which every nation has) as representative of India’s fight against the coronavirus.
Nor will media houses like the Washington Post publish anything but negative reports on India, simply because they have settled on an editorial line which rejects the popular choice of the world’s largest democracy in successive free and fair elections.
India isn’t doing badly so far
Finally, Modi’s methods bring into focus India’s relatively efficient handling of the situation so far. A nation of 1.3 billion people has had just 144 confirmed cases to date and two casualties. This is despite the fact that India shares a 3,488-km border with China.
While there is debate over whether the low figures are a reflection of insufficient testing, there is no doubt that the numbers are in stark contrast to those seen in Italy with a population of 60 million people, nearly 2,000 dead and 25,000 confirmed cases, or the UK with 55 deaths and 1,600 affected in a population of 66 million. Or for that matter the US, which now has 4,165 cases and 72 deaths.
Modi’s approach is a message to the world that New Delhi wants to tackle the deadly Covid-19 crisis with global cooperation and that India has little to conceal.