"I spoke to him (PM Modi) Sunday morning & I said we appreciate it that you are allowing our supply (of Hydroxychloroquine) to come out, if he doesn't allow it to come out, that would be okay, but of course, there may be retaliation, why wouldn't there be?" This is the tweet of the President of the world's biggest power, Donald Trump to the world's largest democracy's prime minister Narendra Modi.
There was an ill-concealed threat against India suspending the export of Hydroxychloroquine – which the US caught in the scourge of Covid badly needed and which India has been producing in large quantities – that came out through this pronouncement. Trump's blow came even before fading of the sweet memory of Modi giving him an extra-ordinary treat of a reception in Ahmedabad two months ago. India had kept the stock of hydroxychloroquine, seen by some as a possible remedy for the corona virus infection - as reserve, when the the panic over Covid threat has been baffling every one and the government had suspended its export. It was after the wider spread of Covid started and situation got complicated that it was disclosed that India was continuing to export without any restrictions the items essential for prevention of the virus.
It was also in the context of the government coming under blame for the export that India decided to export only after ensuring sufficient supply for domestic requirement. When medical theories started floating in the US that hydroxychloroquine, which is used for the treatment of malaria, will be effective in countering Covid - and Trump became its advocate - that this drug started getting attention and demand in discourses about Covid. Following this, in view of the domestic demand India included this medicine in the list under export restrictions and total export ban was imposed on 4th of April.
But what Trump made was a move unusual in bipartisan exchanges. This muscle-flexing diplomacy threw to the winds all known and decent norms of bilateral relations. As commented by Congress MP Shashi Tharoor, also a former Under Secretary General of the United Nations, it is unheard of in diplomatic history for a head of state to threaten the leader of another country. In his reference to the blocking of 'our supply' Modi staked a claim on the asset of another in his possession, which smacked of arrogance. But stranger than that, Trump's threat hit the bull's eye. Very soon after that, almost overnight, India lifted the export ban and granted approval for exporting the drug to America. And that made a rigid Trump into a bit flexible, as his subsequent statement indicates. He also expressed satisfaction that a major part of the required 29 million doses of the drug, was made available from India. The only takeway of this losing deal for India is that during these times of Covid, which betrayed much of our strengths and weaknesses, it revealed the core and substance of the bilateral relations too.
Giving first priority to India and Indians is a primary principle of any government; and the BJP and its prime minister are particularly enamoured of chanting this mantra a hundred times, as a display of their nationalistic spirit. The regime is never far behind either in rhetoric of self-pride and self-reliance through mottos like Stand-up India, Start-up India, Make-in-India - despite none of them getting anywhere in practice. In the matter of relations with the US too, the sangh parivar attempt has always been to create an impression that the relation is not one of unilateral servility but of co-existence of equals. All that has been disproven by Trump's arm-twisting and Modi's capitulation on seeing that. In the wake of the Ahmedabad mass rally, when criticisms were reaised that apart from the glitz of the function, it would not make any impact on Indo-US relations, the BJP was revelling in claims that the relations were of 'India-US bhai bhai'. But what the intimidatory stance of Trump proved now through his comments after ensuring the supply of medicine is that there would be none of such considerations. And India on the other hand expressed excessive meekness in the name of respect for the other side.
Modi government which declined to comment on Trump's threat of retaliation following news of India's export ban, went out of its way to help America by repealing the ban within 48 hours. The government sources said that it was approving the exports since adequate supply for domestic consumption was in stock, India was honouring the orders received earlier. The question how the production and procurement could make such a swift increase before the lapse of two days from the day of ban, is rendered irrelevant by the BJP standing spineless before the Trump regime. India has a legacy of having dismissed with contempt the US naval deployment by President Nixon during the Bangladesh war of 1971. That legacy has been pushed down the earth by this export under coercion by the sangh parivar school, who never get tired of claiming pride in the nation and patriotism. Indeed Trump has a thing or two more to learn in courtesies of diplomacy. And Modi government has to do a lot more homework in its foreign policy too.