Hindustan Times ST (Jaipur)

On Covid, how Delhi turned the wheels in DC


India is expected to land the largest chunk of the vaccines donated by the United States (US), according to the allocation plan announced by President Joe Biden. It has already received upwards of $500 million in supplies and relief from the US government and the private sector, and also won the crucial backing of the Biden administra­tion for its joint proposal with South Africa for a temporary waiver of patents to Covid-19 vaccines.

Some of this has to do with the hydroxychl­oroquine consignmen­t that Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi cleared for release last summer in response to a personal appeal from then president, Donald Trump. Biden has credited this gesture for the help the US has extended to India to deal with the devastatin­g second wave of the pandemic.

Also at work was pressure on Biden internally, from his own party, and from across the entire ideologica­l spectrum. Leading progressiv­es such as Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders and Representa­tives

Alexandria Ocasio-cortez and Pramila Jayapal rallied around India. They pushed the Biden administra­tion to abandon its predecesso­r’s opposition to the patent waiver, which, to be noted, was in alignment with long-running bipartisan US commitment to these issues. Establishm­ent moderates such as Chuck Schumer, who leads the Democratdo­minated Senate as Majority Leader, called for sending India a “robust allotment” from the 80 million vaccines doses that Biden had committed to sending abroad. Other Democrats have called for it as well, as did some Republican­s, though a majority of them have been relatively quiet, or just plain hostile.

There is no one explanatio­n of how the wheels of power turn in Washington DC, but suffice it know that House and Senate lawmakers — the world’s most powerful politician­s with millions of dollars riding on every letter in their signatures — do not write tweets and letters for the same reasons as you and me.

External affairs minister S Jaishankar, who understand­s Washington DC better than most Indian politician­s, was effusive in his praise of the Indian mission during his visit, singling out the ambassador, Taranjit Singh Sandhu, for all that they have done to bolster India’s efforts to combat the second wave. “I must really commend the embassy and the ambassador for the enormous effort that they have put in,” said the minister, who is himself a former ambassador to the US.

Sandhu is a familiar figure on the timelines of those who follow the India-us relationsh­ip on social media platforms, hunched before a TV screen populated with smaller rectangula­r boxes containing some of the world’s most powerful CEOS, American lawmakers, officials, members of the diaspora, and representa­tives of Friends-of-india bodies. In other posts, he can be seen masked up and socially distanced in those few and far between in-person interactio­ns. But, know this, he is just the public face of the people who make the mission, and they have done an outstandin­g job of changing the mood in the world’s most powerful capital.

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