The world is witnessing a rapid flux in geo-politics and international relations over the past few years. These trends became much more pronounced in 2020 with the advent of the coronavirus. At the beginning of 2021 the world was looking at the coming year with some hope and optimism. However, the year witnessed the eruption of the most devastating Delta variant in March, 2021 and the new Omicron variant in November of that year.
Under these demanding circumstances, India took several bold steps to emerge as a global leader in many significant areas. Not only has it been able to effectively handle the numerous challenges domestically but it has also resolutely moved to extend a helping hand to many foreign partners to ameliorate their suffering. This is in keeping with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s assertion at his first Address to the UN General Assembly Session in September 2014, soon after assuming power, that India’s foreign policy is governed by India’s age-old maxim of ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ (The World is One Family).
Vaccine Maitri Initiative: On 16 January, 2021, India set out on the formidable journey of vaccinating its huge 1.38 billion-strong population against COVID-19. Since then, more than 90 percent of the Indian eligible population has received the first dose, and over 65 percent of those initially vaccinated receiving the second dose. Additionally, precautionary doses, commonly known as booster shots, are now being given to frontline workers and vulnerable individuals above the age of 60 years. Youth between the ages of 15-18 years started receiving their first dose from 3 January, 2022. Vaccination of children between 12-14 years has also begun.
Following the vision of ‘One Earth, One Health’ propounded by PM Modi, India started sharing its vaccines with the outside world within four days of the commencement of its own vaccination drive. In accordance with the ‘’Neighborhood First’’ Policy enunciated by PM Modi at the beginning of his first term, Bhutan and Maldives became the first countries to receive 150,000 and 100,000 vaccines respectively on 20 January, 2021. Bangladesh and Nepal came next on 21 January, 2021. Myanmar, Seychelles, Mauritius, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan followed soon thereafter. Although India has not recognized the Taliban dispensation in Kabul since it took over power by force on 15 August, 2021, as has no other country in the world, it has not hesitated to provide, essential medicines including additional one million doses of COVID-19 vaccines and about four tons of life-saving drugs and equipment as humanitarian aid to Afghanistan. All these items were supplied to the Indira Gandhi Hospital in Kabul by air via Dubai and Iran as Pakistan did not allow use of its territory for overland transit to Afghanistan, which would have been the shortest and quickest route.
Supplies of vaccines were welcomed with deep gratitude by the recipient countries. Bhutan’s PM applauded “the gesture that signifies compassion and generosity of PM Modi, and people of India for the wellbeing of humanity.” He added: “It is of unimaginable value when precious commodities are shared even before meeting your own needs.” Bangladesh Health Minister said that India had stood by Bangladesh during the Liberation War of 1971 as well as the pandemic. The Nepalese PM thanked PM Modi and the Indian government for the “generous grant.. at this critical time when India is rolling out vaccination for its own people.”
The Brazilian President thanked PM Modi with a picture of Lord Hanuman bringing the holy ‘Sanjeevani’. The Prime Minister of Dominica said after receiving the COVID-19 vaccines: “I must confess that I did not imagine that the prayers of my country would be answered so swiftly.” United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres termed India’s vaccine production capacity as the “best asset”, the world has to fight the pandemic. The US State Department, the Prime Minister of Mauritius, the Director-General of World Health Organization, Global philanthropist Bill Gates, and several others spoke appreciatively of the selfless manner in which India helped several developing countries with the vaccines.
India had to temporarily curtail these supplies when the second wave of the virus struck India in April, 2021 but they were resumed as soon as the situation and supplies normalized. This initiative significantly enhanced the influence and image of the country. The fact that India has been able to develop, manufacture and use several vaccines domestically has significantly enhanced India’s status as a rising scientific and technological power.
India’s Presidency of the UN Security Council (UNSC): India assumed the two-year non-permanent membership of the UNSC on 1 January, 2021 and assumed the presidency of UNSC for August, 2021. This provided India with an invaluable opportunity to enhance its credibility as a responsible stake-holder and a rightful claimant to the permanent membership of UNSC. India identified maritime security, peace-keeping and counter-terrorism as key issues for special debates during its presidency.
Discussions on Maritime Security in different UN fora had been scheduled earlier but could not be conducted due to the high sensitivity of the issue. PM Modi decided to chair the Session on 9 August, becoming the first Indian Prime Minister to conduct a UNSC meeting. Russian President Putin attended the deliberations. The last time Putin attended such a discussion was in 2005.
The month of August also witnessed the forcible assumption of power in Kabul by the Taliban. This put a huge onus on the Indian Presidency. India proved equal to the challenge. It presided over several discussions on the evolving situation and crafted Resolution 2593, which has come to represent the consensus view of the global community on actions that Taliban must take in the governance of Afghanistan. The competent and deft manner in which India built consensus even amongst opposing parties during its Presidency significantly added to its prestige and influence.
Climate Change: India has taken several initiatives to ensure that its growth in the coming years would be green, clean, sustainable and reliable. At the COP26 Summit in Glasgow in Oct/Nov, 2021, India committed to the target of net zero by 2070. India, with 17 percent of the world’s population contributes merely 5 percent to the global greenhouse gas emissions. As a result of efforts over past years, 40 percent of India’s energy generation is being contributed by non-fossil fuel sources. This emphasizes India’s commitment to sustainable development as it achieved the target under the Paris Accord, nine years before the due date of 2030. India is the only G20 member which is meeting its commitments under the Paris Agreement. This has enabled it to emerge as a world leader in this critical area where earlier it used to be on the defensive.
‘Vande Bharat’ Mission: India launched the most ambitious evacuation plan undertaken thus far in May 2020 under the ‘Vande Bharat’’ Mission to transport back Indian nationals stranded in different countries due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This was necessitated on account of lockdowns and cessation of international flights by India and other countries due to the rapid spread of coronavirus. Over 50,000 flights were operated to repatriate more than 6.7 million people to India, as well as foreigners to their home countries abroad. In addition, the initiative ‘Samudra Setu’’’ by the Indian navy was launched to bring back around four thousand Indians from the Gulf and neighboring countries. Such a mammoth operation conducted in a remarkably seamless way significantly enhanced the image of India.
India registered significant progress in several other domains, both domestic and external, during the pandemic period. More than 10,000 start-ups were registered over the last six months. India is promoting ‘Ease of Doing Business’, minimizing government interference, and implementing more than 25,000 compliances. The number of startups, which was just a few hundred some years ago, has crossed 60,000 today. It also has more than 80 unicorns, the third largest in the world, of which more than 40 were formed in 2021. During the Corona period, when the world was focusing on monetary interventions such as ‘Quantitative Easing’, India paved the way for reforms.
The biggest projects to modernize digital and physical infrastructure got unprecedented momentum during the corona period. The US$10 billion incentive plan to roll out the fab, chip and display industry is a testament to India’s commitment to making the global supply chain seamless. India is marching forward with the spirit of ‘Make in India, Make for the world’. India today presents limitless opportunities in the fields of aerospace, telecom, insurance, defense and semiconductors.
In addition to the above, several other major initiatives were taken by India during this arduous pandemic period through launch of the Western Quad comprising of India, Israel, UAE and USA; strengthening of India’s ties with its neighbors, as well as with USA, Russia and other strategic partners; reinforcing the Quad partnership; hosting the Delhi Regional Security Dialogue and the Third India-Central Asia Dialogue, which brought India center-stage to developments in Afgha