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Donald, We Indians need ventilators too!

By Ambassador M K BHADRAKUMAR
April 09, 2020 16:32 IST
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'Modi forgot to ask Trump for anything that India may need -- and there is so much shortfall all around!', states Ambassador M K Bhadrakumar.

IMAGE: Prime Mkinister Narendra Damodardas Modi hugs United States President Donald J Trump at Ahmedabad airport, February 24, 2020.

It often puzzles me what transpires during high-level visits by world leaders.

The substantive content of such events laced with pomp and glory impacting inter-State relations is generally handled by sherpas, quietly and unobtrusively.

Of course, there are sherpas and sherpas.

Is it tourism that principally attracts the VIP?

Or, does he hope to make up for his own inadequacies at a personal level by seeing first-hand how his peers in faraway lands operate function more efficiently?

This question becomes intriguing in its application to PM Modi's extended 5-day State visit to Israel in 2017.

Modi was clearly on a learning curve in cementing the ideological bonds between Hindutva and Zionism.

But beyond that lies something else.

The one national characteristic that even critics of Israeli policies would acknowledge would be that country's work ethic, which is a national trait.

Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu always carries in his coat pocket a wish list during visits abroad to ask the right questions and elicit from his counterparts something, anything, that might be useful for 'the State of Israel' (to borrow his favourite expression).

Putin is another stellar example.

And, of course, Donald Trump.

IMAGE: United States President Donald J Trump declares the coronavirus pandemic a national emergency. Photograph: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters
 

The contrast couldn't be sharper in our case.

The moment it was brought to President Trump's notice that India was imposing an export ban on the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine which could be useful in treating COVID-19 patients, Trump was on the line, ringing up Modi and seeking that exports may still take place for the American market.

Modi agreed and lifted the ban for the US.

But, did it occur to the Indian side to seek a reciprocal gesture from Trump?

From the MEA's press release, the answer is 'No'.

Modi instead discussed the virtues of Ayurveda.

An opportunity is now at hand.

The BBC reported that Trump is contemplating transferring to 'desperate countries' such as the UK some of the surplus ventilators in US godowns.

He specifically mentioned the UK.

Perhaps, PM Modi could make up for the lost opportunity on Sunday by bringing to Trump's notice that India too has a 'desperate' need of ventilators.

Why not make the phone call tonight itself before the White House switchboard gets clogged?

Our government cannot claim to be fighting fit in its upcoming struggle against coronavirus.

Surely, there are lots of things that the Indian healthcare system is lacking.

When we speak of 'strong solidarity and cooperation' -- to quote from the MEA press release -- why does it have to be always a one-way street?

IMAGE: Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu arrives for a speech at his Jerusalem office, regarding the new measures that will be taken to fight coronavirus. Photograph: Gali Tibbon/Pool/Reuters

If Netanyahu were in Modi's shoes, he would have sized up that a wonderful window of opportunity was at hand to ask Trump for something that might make a big difference to Israel as it combats COVID-19.

Indeed, Israel is fighting with its back against the wall in combating the coronavirus.

As of today, the death toll stands at 71 and the number of infected cases at 9,404.

For a small country, these are staggering figures.

Israel is under a very strict lockdown.

Nonetheless, what is utterly fascinating is how Israel is coping with the situation.

Israel too is in a similar predicament as India, with a healthcare system that is grossly ill-equipped to handle such a big crisis.

But this is where work ethics comes in.

No clanging of plates, no 9-minute darkness, no videoconferences in the international circuit.

IMAGE: Yossi Cohen, head of the Mossad. Photograph: Amir Cohen/Reuters

Netanyahu's office made a comprehensive assessment of the likely chronic shortfall in equipments and medicines in the period ahead -- surgical masks, N95 respirator masks, ventilators and test kits, overalls for ambulance workers and so on.

It then passed on the list to Mossad, Israel's spy agency.

Overnight, Mossad turned into a Red Cross, it obtained huge supplies from abroad.

The operation was personally supervised by the agency's director, Yossi Cohen.

Interestingly, some of the procurements were from countries with which Israel doesn't even have diplomatic relations.

Last week alone, Mossad brought 4 lakhs coronavirus test kits to Israel from an undisclosed foreign location.

The Xinhua news agency reported on Tuesday that Israel has signed a deal worth $25.2 million with Chinese biotech giant BGI Genomics in equipment and substance supply for performing coronavirus tests.

The deal will allow the operation of an additional at least 10,000 coronavirus tests a day in Israel.

Xinhua cryptically adds, 'The devices, which are purchased in collaboration with the defense ministry, are expected to reach six (Israeli) testing laboratories in two to three weeks.'

Netanyahu himself is in self-isolation.

But the Israeli parliament's Special Committee on Dealing With the Coronavirus is overseeing government efforts to curb the outbreak in Israel.

Now, both India and Israel are functioning democracies.

But isn't there a world of difference in their respective work ethics?

Indeed, what could be more important for an elected government than the security and welfare of the people who elect it to power, especially an emergency affecting public health?

Therefore, when the MEA puts out such a ghastly press release on the Trump-Modi phone call, it is apparent that there is something very rotten in the state of Denmark.

Modi forgot to ask Trump for anything that India may need -- and there is so much shortfall all around! Simply incomprehensible.

Aren't we just hoping to muddle through?

For argument's sake, if what the MEA press release says is true and our leaders have such bleeding hearts, why don't they join the world opinion -- including the UN and America's European allies and Russia and China (and Pakistan) -- to urge Trump to lift the sanctions against Iran?

It is rank hypocrisy to instead preach on the 'humanitarian aspects of the pandemic' and do nothing.


Ambassador M K Bhadrakumar served the Indian Foreign Service for more than 29 years. He has served as India's ambassador to Turkey and Uzbekistan and has been a contributor to Rediff.com for well over a decade.

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The War Against Coronavirus

The War Against Coronavirus