Over the last 20 years, India has assiduously built an international image of itself as a dynamic modern democracy with a stable government and fast growing economy. It has drawn global attention to its thriving technology sector, its elite engineering schools and its advancements in space exploration. Recently it has positioned itself as the “Pharmacy of the World” and through its drugs and vaccine diplomacy tried to take on a leadership role among the developing countries.
Furthermore, as the nation with the world’s fourth largest armed force and a nuclear arsenal, it has long claimed to be a “Responsible Power” that others can rely on.
But now as the world looks with horror at the heartbreaking images of India’s funeral pyres and people desperately begging for oxygen for their dying loved ones, India’s global image stands shattered without a doubt. Countries which had been counting on India’s commitments for their vaccine supplies have been left stranded. In future they will not make the same mistake and surely look elsewhere.
The tragedy is not of India’s making, but it has exposed India’s miserable failure at proper planning and crisis management, conducting scientific modelling, collecting accurate data, managing supply chains and delivering on commitments.
No one could have predicted the ferocity of India’s second wave. However both Indians and outsiders are baffled as to why the Indian government never planned for a second wave or why it never arranged for sufficient vaccines and expanded the medical facilities. Why building of new administrative centres, presidential residencies and fancy cricket stadiums was going on through the pandemic, but no new hospitals could be built?
After touting its proud self-reliance or ‘Aatmanirbhar’ vision through ceaseless promotions and media campaigns, the Indian government has once again turned India into a recipient of foreign aid, the classic “third-world” image India had taken so long to shake off.
It is India’s misfortune that this new strain of COVID virus is so virulent and contagious, but it is India’s failure that thousands of its people are dying due to lack of access to basics such as a hospital bed and oxygen, even after a year into the world’s worst epidemic.
To quote Shashi Tharoor, “Global Leadership must begin at home”. India will eventually get through this, but will it be able to justify a greater role in global governance after such disastrous management at home