India and It’s shift in Foreign policy during Covid-19 Pandemic

Dec17,2021 #COVID-19 #India #Pandemic
Indian Foreign policy during Covid-19 Pandemic law insider

By Barkha Singh

Published On: December 17, 2021 at 15:50 IST


The Covid-19 Pandemic has unequivocally caught the world off guard as most countries including 1st world countries lacked the preparedness and emergency-response system required to deal with such an acute epidemic crisis. India too did not have a system in place or a specific legislation to deal with various fronts that required attention in times of a grave health-crisis.

As an initial response, the government imposed Epidemics Diseases Act of 1897 and subsequently the Disaster Management Act of 2005 to make the pandemic a national emergency. But the, the fact that the country’s healthcare system was able to follow commands and guidelines shows the resilience and competency of the system to face an emergency.

Nonetheless, the pandemic has and will continue to have lasting effects on India’s foreign policy. It cannot be ignored that Covid-19’s second wave and its excruciating consequences have prompted India to accept foreign aid after 17years. In this article , we delve into how the pandemic has affected India’s foreign policy and what far-reaching strategic implications can it cause for the country.


In the last 74 years of independence India has come a long way from, from being portrayed as a poverty and disease-ridden country to becoming the ‘pharmacy of the world’. India is the largest producer of generic medicines; the prices of these are the lowest in the world

The pandemic has stepped up India’s medical diplomacy. India is reaching out to everyone in need and resuscitating its age old belief of ‘Vasudhaiya Kutumbaka’ which means, “world is one family”.

From hydroxychloroquine medicines to shipping Covid-19 vaccines, India has become a major player. About 54 per cent of the total exports — 357.92 lakh vaccine doses — have been sent as commercial supplies by two vaccine manufacturers (Serum Institute of India and Bharat Biotech), rest are grant assistances on humanitarian grounds. This groundbreaking move by India will help strengthen its strategic, economic and international image by earning a long-term goodwill


Like any country, neighbourhood remains a primary diplomatic arena and has become a central pillar of India’s foreign and security policies since 2014. Mission ‘vaccine maitri’ was a step in this direction by making India’s vaccine manufacturing capacity available to tits neighboring nations. Out of the 107.15 lakh doses of covid-19 vaccines sent, 78.5 lakh doses (73.26 per cent) have been sent to just seven neighbouring countries. This helps in combating the Covid-19 Pandemic by immunizing India’s immediate neighbours as well as serves as a good diplomacy tool.

According to a report, India pledged ₹67.8 million worth of aid to Nepal. Of which, ₹39.3 million worth of aid has been delivered. Aid worth ₹39.7 million was pledged to Bangladesh, and 36.1 million worth of aid has been delivered so far. Afghanistan was pledged ₹22.3 million worth of aid, and so far, aid worth only ₹2.9 million has been delivered. (Mishra, 2020).

India also initiated the ‘SAARC COVID19 Information Exchange Platform (COINEX)’ for the member countries to encourage frequent interactions as all the countries were grappling through the varied manifestation of infection. In March 2020, India proposed the creation of a ‘SAARC COVID19 Emergency Fund’ for coordinated COVID-19 mitigation efforts in South Asia, with all member countries, except Pakistan, contributing to the fund.

Though the country has taken many steps in the right direction, the increasing influence of China in the South Asian region may cause a gradual decline of Indian hegemony in the neighbourhood.

If we look back, the Indian Ocean tsunamis in 2004 was a natural catastrophe that devastated Chennai, Tamil Nadu and Andaman Nicobar islands, but India stood firm on its grounds and set a benchmark precedent of recovery and even offering foreign aid to neighbouring countries.


In May 2020, the border standoff in Ladakh wherein almost 20 Indian soldiers lost their life, led to many unprecedented consequences in the relationship of the two countries. The border tensions that flared up between India and China led to India banning many Chinese products and Chinese apps.

India had also imposed a ban on Chinese companies Huawei and ZTE for 5G trials . India has been trying to reduce its dependence on China for finished products as well as raw materials. This has revived talks between India and the European Union over the FREE TRADE AGREEMENT (FTA), after a gap of 8 years.

The impact of the second wave in India was cataclysmic. India to some extent is forced to be more placatory towards China. This might again be a threat to India’s geopolitical hegemony, which in turn would benefit China. China might start gaining more and more importance, not only in South Asia but also in the Indo Pacific Region. Potential impact of COVID-19’s devastating return might force India to be more conciliatory towards China. As of now, India and China have a fragile relationship, and whether India and China will be foes or friends is yet to be seen.


The exigencies of the Covid-19 pandemic and the change in US administration have increased the dynamics to the ever-evolving relationship between the two powerful democracies. India-US relations have seen some fluctuations during the pandemic. US in light of its new administration’s “America First” policy, was reciprocate help to India earlier this year. However US changed track and India was provided with the required supplies. Indian-US ties will be critical in countering the pandemic global.


The Indian government is actively using all international platforms available to it to promote its image as a responsible stakeholder and using every possible opportunity to contrast itself with its neighbours, China and Pakistan. India prides itself on its softer, friendlier approach to other developing nations, which it contrasts with China’s ‘debt trap’ diplomacy.

Although India and the other members of the Quad Alliance pledged to provide over a billion doses of vaccine manufactured in India under an initiative originally announced in March. The second wave of Covid-19 in India had brought in a lot of economic distress and unemployment and thus India cannot ignore its domestic development either. As a result of which there will be a huge impact on India’s ability and inclination to contribute to the Quad (which is a strategic dialogue between the US, Australia, Japan and India), and to the Indo-Pacific region.

The G-20 meeting held in light of the pandemic, had resolved to ‘fully support and commit to further strengthen the WHO’s mandate in coordinating the international fight against the pandemic.

India has also been prompt in its response to the UN Secretary General’s call for global solidarity against the pandemic. India has invested in producing affordable COVID-19 vaccines and has also pushed for its rapid and easy access by poor countries. Serum Institute of India, the largest vaccine manufacturer by volume globally, has been producing the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine for domestic use and export. At least 50 percent of least developed countries have received vaccine doses from India.

India took the lead and announced US$1 billion as COVID-19 assistance to 90 countries of the world (Gupta, 2020b). This includes paracetamol and hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) delivery, which are critical for the treatment of this pandemic in 55 countries.

India and some other countries have also urged the WTO’s Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Council to temporarily suspend intellectual property rights related to COVID-19 so that the vaccines and other new diagnostic technologies are accessible to poor countries. Although WTO members have failed to reach a consensus on the proposal, several developing countries have rallied behind this effort.


COVID-19 has turned out to be a huge challenge for India. It has brought in a lot of economic slackening, along with a huge rate of unemployment as well. As well as in light of , fear of covid-19 third wave looming large, domestic economic and political development also needs to be focused upon.

Health issues have graduated to a mainstream foreign policy priority and emerged as an effective soft power tool for states to pursue their economic interests and international relations. COVID-19 pandemics will definitely impact India’s strategic autonomy in future. It is currently dependent on other countries in order to fight against COVID-19. As a result of which India has become more conciliatory. Health is going to undoubtedly become an integral part of India’s foreign and economic policy.

India has this opportunity of showing its leadership skills in the South Asian countries, which can possibly lead to the rejuvenation of SAARC and also focus other strategic groups like QUAD.

As chair of the WHO Executive Board, India can now play an important role in integrating perspectives from the Global South into WHO’s normative framework India can forge these coalitions by building solidarity among countries and by developing meaningful partnerships with friendly countries around the world. India must rely on its ancient philosophical ethos rooted in vasudhaiva kutumbakam (world is one family) as guidance in developing global health cooperation.


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