The outbreak of COVID 19 pandemic has disrupted our individual and collective lives and has left nations across the world, even the most prosperous ones grappling to tame the virus despite having tremendously exhausted their physical and social infrastructure and tottering economies. Such widespread is the enormity of this global pandemic that not only domestic politics but international politics too has failed to remain unscathed.
In this context, various scholars of International Relations as well as Foreign Policy experts have opined that the present world order is going to witness significant changes in the post COVID scenario. Hence, it is very crucial to analyse how India could emerge as a key player in shaping the new world order.
It is said that History is a guide to Politics. Going by the circumstances, it is certain that a new leadership to respond to the challenges of a Post COVID globe will definitely emerge. In the aftermath of First World War, it was President Franklin Roosevelt who donned the mantle of leadership and guided the inter war as well as Post Second World War era and played an instrumental role in establishing institutions like IMF, World Bank, UN organisations, etc. However, presently, the credibility of organisations like WHO and UN seems significantly dented as they are being increasingly perceived to have failed to reign in the raging pandemic in the initial days of outbreak. Also, WHO is being accused of downplaying the alacrity of the virus by mollycoddling with China and this serious allegation comes directly from US, a major contributor to WHO. When the efficacy and trustworthiness of multilateral institutions remains doubtful, mutual trust is replaced with mutual suspicion and consensus mired by conspiracy, it becomes increasingly evident that the present world order demands a reboot.
INDIA’S EARLY RESPONSE:
As the world was left baffled and bemoaned with the spiralling COVID cases and mounting deaths with each day setting new records of death toll and spread of the infection, India rose to the occasion showcasing its resolute leadership and matured decision making ability by imposing what came to be known as one of the most stringent lockdown measure for a nation populated by 125 crore people . Clearly, given its limited infrastructure and humongous population, India had no room for complacency or procrastination. At that time, saving the lives of people was most important, economic consideration coming a distant second. India has set an example for the world by its successful lockdown measures and prolonging the virus peak period, thereby saving millions of lives. While this has earned praise from all corners of the globe, leaving many even surprised by the sheer determination of India for saving its citizens from falling prey to the deadly pathogen, India has also take some noteworthy steps to influence its foreign policy in numerous ways and sees this as an opportunity to emerge as a major player in the new world order.
MEDICAL DIPLOMACY :
In these challenging times, India has not forgotten the core philosophy of its foreign policy,ie, Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam or the whole world is one family. India which has always rendered a helping hand to its neighbouring countries as well other countries during their crises. This time when the success against the pandemic hinges on waging a collective fight, how could India forget its duty? India has tried to live up to its title of “the pharmacy of the world” by exporting the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) around the world. From the developed world to Africa and Latin America, India is gifting this much-in-demand drug to some nations while selling it to others with the supplies being made through special Indian Air Force flights, foreign evacuation charters and even diplomatic cargo.
New Delhi has also deployed its medical professionals in its global health engagements. Indian military doctors have been sent to countries like Nepal, the Maldives and Kuwait to help them with local management of the viral pandemic. Indian medical staff has also been conducting online training for their counterparts from other SAARC countries, thereby helping them in building their essential capacities. India’s humane gesture has caught global imagination as well as appealed to their conscience as evident from tweets of various global leaders as well as exposes the faultlines between India and China and their global outlooks. While China was busy in diplomatic barbs with western world in its desperate bid to counter allegations of hiding its monumental failure in containing the pandemic which emerged from its territory and gripped the entire world, India was constructively focused with whatever resources and expertise it had in helping its citizens as well as citizens of other countries. India’s proactive response would go a long way in developing a perception of global community towards India as a responsible and sensible global stakeholder which doesn’t shy away from facing trying times. This extensive global outreach has been a departure from the past when India tended to look at itself as a nation with limited ability to shape global outcomes.
India’s Medical Diplomacy is a subtle art of realism with regard to its foreign policy. India decided to craft a regional approach to strengthen its relative position in its immediate surroundings. Seychelles and Mauritius are two important island countries located in the strategic Indian Ocean Region (IOR). India provided these countries with immediate drug supplies to assist them in fighting the epidemic. Cementing ties with these small nations in this opportune moment is part of the larger objective of India’s Security and Growth for all in the Region (SAGAR) initiative launched in 2015. This carefully thought of strategic move is bound to bolster India’s presence in the Indian Ocean Region as well as act as a check on Chinese machinations in the region about which many countries have expressed apprehensions in the recent past.
Regional integration is key to international elevation. India has sensed this right and a glimpse of which was visible in the first week of April 2020 when Indian PM Narendra Modi convened a virtual meeting of SAARC leaders to discuss a strategy to deal with the pandemic. This unprecedented move, however could not have come at a better time. SAARC as a regional forum was lying dormant for past few years for many reasons. This is the right time to reinvigorate the platform and reformulate its core agenda and actions to respond to the emerging challenges by taking all stakeholders into consultation. This could be seen as can be seen as a thoughtful drive to respond to China’s growing influence in the region by reasserting India’s leadership. India pledged $10 million toward a COVID-19 emergency fund and it also announced that it would be putting together a team of specialists for the SAARC states. It may be that Pakistan was in a quandary on how to respond to Modi’s unexpected move. Now, Modi’s SAARC drive has put the ball in Pakistan’s court to illuminate the roadblocks for dialogue.
Modi’s move can be seen as a masterstroke to assert India’s leadership in the South Asian region. India is also pushing for more clout as the world’s largest democracy. This comes in the backdrop of growing euphoria of China’s multi – billion dollar Belt and Road Initiative ( BRI) which has found support among many countries and is seen as Chinese bid for global dominance. Modi’s intention may have been to maintain India’s leadership role amid China’s ambitions. South Asia being a strategic node for entire world with many western countries having stakes in the region, India’s pivotal role would only amount to icing on the cake.
ELECTION TO UNSC AS A FUTURIST GLOBAL ACTOR:
India’s recent victory as a non permanent member of the UN Security Council is a short in the arm for India’s foreign policy and further lends credence to its aspirations of playing an important role in the new world order. This victory has structural as well as substantive implications. Structurally, it is expected from India to renew its push for permanent candidacy with more vigour and vitality. It also remains to be seen how India works with other like minded partners like the G4 members ( Brazil, Germany, Japan and India) to initiate institutional reforms within UN and give a fair share to the non Western, non Permanent, developing nations and raise the specific issues faced by them in the international sphere. Substantially, there are high expectations from India to pitch even strongly for a rules based world order, the contours of which are to be tailored in a way that provides a just space to India as well as other countries of the Global South in the multilateral platforms in sync with the ethics of global justice. India’s victory to UNSC has also ruffled the feathers of Pakistan and it has realised that it could no longer scuttle the prospects of India on UN platforms on Kashmir issue or India’s Citizenship Amendment Act. Calculated moves by India armed with smart diplomacy ultimately means India can not only legitimately claim for a bigger bargaining space but could also ward off any obstacles posed on the global forums because of its domestic decisions. India’s futuristic role in the UN also looks brighter given its rapprochement with the United States and other friendly nations like Australia. It is expected that these favorable conditions would herald a new era of international aid and cooperation in the areas of climate governance, combating terrorism, trade deals, health, education, defense, etc.
India is certainly at a more privileged and honorable position on the international stage than ever before and its journey here on, would be decided on how it utilizes its political capital and leadership potential to sit in the driver’s seat. There is absolutely no question on the moral legitimacy of India’s leadership with regard to external affairs; the reason being its relentless pursuit of a foreign policy imbued with deep ideological commitments which have roots in its civilization ethos regardless of external or internal challenges. New Delhi’s deference for a rules based world order has been the cornerstone of its videsh neeti till date, and there is absolutely no reason why it would deviate from its chosen path in the days to come.