India Falters Amidst the Pandemic

Author Name: Omer Aamir      22 May 2020     India

The world is battling to find the cure for CoVID-19 and looking to bolster weakening global supply chains which have been severely disrupted by the effects of the pandemic. The global powers are looking to ‘steal’ if necessary essential medical supplies and personal protective equipment. United States has been accused of this practice. According to French officials, mask supplies that were headed for France, one of the worst hit countries, were ‘hijacked’ by American buyers. They offered triple the price at the Shanghai airport and persuaded the suppliers to ship the consignment to United States instead. Steps like these have undermined American credibility and its leadership of the world order in global eyes. China, on the other hand, has been helping worst hit developing countries with gratis medical supplies. An example is that of its helping hand extended to Pakistan and free equipment handed over to the country following President of Pakistan’s visit to China. Pakistan Air Force, led the efforts in this regard to ferry the supplies to the country. Moreover, China pledged $2 billion over two years to fight the virus particularly to countries that have been hard hit such as Iran and South Korea. It also stated that it had shared with all relevant countries and WHO, the genetic sequence of the virus.

These are indeed unprecedented times with unusual measures being undertaken to test people at a rapid pace. Universities and research centres are attempting novel techniques to counter the spread of the virus. The Broad institute (a joint MIT-Harvard venture) has begun SARS-COV-2 testing. Similarly, scientists at Rutgers University (New York) recently demonstrated a way to look for signs of virus in spit samples instead of nasal swabs. However, still, it is a daunting task to ramp up testing to millions a day, according to Severin Schwan, the boss of Roche, a Swiss pharmaceutical that makes point-of-care testing machines. Despite limited testing happening in a developing country like Pakistan, the country’s Chief Justice was eager not to stay out of the limelight. He requisitioned for all shopping malls to be opened and claimed that ‘Corona Virus is not a pandemic in Pakistan’, despite all assertions by sane medical professionals to the contrary.

It is under these confusing and testing times, that we find India receiving the animosity of its neighbours’ and minorities alike. To begin with, the South Asian nuclear power inaugurated a road passing through an area that has been contested by Nepal as a ‘disputed territory’. The road, intended to shorten the trip of a Hindu pilgrimage of Kailash Mansarovar, has instead drawn the admonition of Nepal’s foreign ministry. It passes through Kalapani, a territory claimed by Nepal, however having Indian troop presence since the 1962 border war between India and China. In the escalating row, Nepal’s foreign minister summoned the Indian ambassador to register the protest.

Similarly, tensions in the Indian occupied territory of Kashmir are once again simmering. India undertook the killing of a member of Hizb-ul-Mujahideen named Riyaz Naikoo. Protests broke out in Beighpora and other parts of Southern Kashmir, following the killing. Indian security forces responded with pellets and bullets (considering their blanket immunity under the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act and in complete disregard to International Human Rights law). This took the life of one Jehangir Yusuf of Pulwama. Moreover, under heightened security in the Indian Occupied Kashmir region, the Indian forces killed an innocent man in the western outskirts of Srinagar. This sparked further anti-India protests and clashes. The protestors, while defying the curfew, were of the view that the man was brutally shot despite stopping at the checkpoint. Moreover, Pakistani Prime Minister, Imran Khan, claimed that India was once again planning a false flag operation in order to ratchet up the tensions with its western neighbour.

If these instances of attracting the ire of its neighbours were not sufficient, tensions with China also notched up. According to The Print, India has been flying regular Su-30 MKI sorties after strained relations with China on the Line of Actual Control (LAC), (near Ladakh). According to another publication, jets were scrambled after two Chinese choppers were detected flying close to the LAC. There were reports of clashes last week on the border, with fist fights and stone pelting. Both sides have rushed additional troops to the contested Pangong Tso lake area thereinafter.

India’s fight against CoVID-19 has highlighted the underlying internal communalism in the so-called ‘world’s largest democracy’. The divisive rhetoric propagated by officials at the highest level, and substantiated by lower level cadre of RSS using social media, has led to violent attacks on ordinary Muslims. A minister in BJP government accused the Tableeghi Jamaat of spreading ‘Corona terrorism’. Unsurprisingly, a Muslim vegetable vendor was attacked in Delhi the following day, followed by attacks on Muslim cattle herders in Punjab. Such prejudice and political patronage of vigilante attacks will ultimately threaten India’s fight against the Covid-19 pandemic. As the economy falters, jobs disappear, resources become scarce, and as people panic because of the rising number of cases, there is an increasing risk that discrimination and violence will spread further.

It can be implied from the above-mentioned events that India is trying to take the attention away from its’ internal fault lines. As local jobs and businesses take a hit, communalism will rear its ugly head, and subsequently the pressure on Indian government will increases to battle against the economic, social and pandemic vows simultaneously. In a desperate strategy the BJP led government has started diverting the poor public’s attention towards its neighbours: North and West. The fight against the virus, which does not respect political boundaries, should have involved a collective regional and global effort, and not mere political statements. The logical approach would have been to construct joint efforts to battle the pandemic. However, populist leaders with myopic thinking are instead bent on enhancing their vote bank rather than rising above the boundary lines. Narendra Modi has failed to rise to a regional leadership role, just as Donald Trump has handed over this moment of global leadership to Xi Jinping. Corona Virus will eventually be defeated, however, the divisive steps undertaken by the BJP leadership, both internally as well as externally, will leave a lasting bad taste amongst India’s neighbours and its minorities. Its effects will indubitably be felt for many years after the threat of Corona has subsided.

 

Omer Aamir is a researcher at Centre for Aerospace and Security Studies (CASS). This article was first published in Daily Times newspaper. He has done B.A LL.B (Hons) from Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) He intends to pursue International law and International Relations for further studies.