As the countries around the world including most powerful of them all- United States- is requesting for Indian made hydroxychloroquine drug to fight against Coronavirus disease, and PM Modi’s inbox is filled with Thank You letters from the head of states, this is the right time to measure the rise of India’s soft power in the last few decades.
India’s ‘request’ for food to the United States in the mid-60s, when millions in India would have died of famine, could be a perfect contrast to the present situation. After Independence, Jawaharlal Nehru took the country on the path of socialism through import substitution and heavy industrialization. However, agriculture, the basic need for survival of 33 crore people, was ignored by the then Congress government.
India was dependent on Public Law 480 (PL-480), under which the US provided wheat and rice supplies to India since 1950 against the payment of rupee equivalent to dollars, as India did not have enough foreign exchange, given its import substitution policies.
For more than a decade, US kept supplies going but after the Indian government criticized American bombings in Vietnam, the then US President Lyndon B Johnson stopped the supplies. At that time, India had just fought the 1965 India-Pakistan war and was suffering from two successive droughts, all through 1965 and 1966.
At a time when you are dependent on someone, criticizing their interest in a third party is obviously silly and impractical, but the Indian foreign ministry, driven by Nehruvian idealism and concern for the third world, was short-sighted enough to make this mistake.
When those sympathetic to India in the Lyndon B Johnson’s team told the President that India has said the same thing as UN Secretary-General and the Pope, he retorted with the following statement– “The Pope and the Secretary-General do not need our wheat.”
Many Nehruvian idealists and Left-wing Babus told the Indira Gandhi government to stop imports from the US, but the government could take this step, because it knew that millions of Indians would die from hunger if the US stops exports. “If food imports stop, these ladies and gentlemen won’t suffer. Only the poor would starve,” said Mrs Gandhi.
Having learnt its lesson, the Indian government ushered efforts for Green Revolution and imported 18,000 tonnes of high yielding varieties (HYV) from Mexico. With the help of politicians like C Subramanian and scientists like M S Swaminathan, India witnessed an era of unprecedented agricultural growth, and today, the country is a net exporter of agricultural products. Today, India is a leader in the production of milk, pulses and jute and the second largest producer of rice, wheat, sugarcane, groundnut, vegetables, fruit and cotton.
Not just agriculture, India has become a leader in many other sectors like software exports and pharmaceutical exports, thanks to economic liberalization in the early 1990s. In the last few decades since economic liberalization, the Indian economy grew at 7-8 percent compared to 3-4 percent growth in pre-liberalization ear, or what was called prejudiciously as Hindu rate of growth by Marxist economist Krishna Raj.
Today, the countries around the world are requesting India to supply the anti-Malarial drug HCQ which, as per anecdotal evidences, works as a preventive and cure against COVID-19. India is a world leader in anti-Malarial drugs, accounting for 70 per cent of global supply of HCQ, and produces 20 lakh 200mg tablets every month, but now, amid the Coronavirus pandemic, and a massive scare and lockdown in India, there is an exponential rise in demand as HCQ has been cleared as a preventive drug against COVID-19, the companies like Ipca, Zycus Cadila plan to increase production many time to meet the global demand.
The tremendous task taken by Indian pharmaceutical industry is winning friends for the country around the world. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro quoted Ramayana in a Thank You letter to PM Modi. “Just as Lord Hanuman brought the holy medicine from the Himalayas to save the life of Lord Rama’s brother Lakshmana, and Jesus healed those who were sick and restored the sight to Bartimeu, India and Brazil will overcome this global crisis by joining forces and sharing blessings for the sake of all peoples,” wrote Bolsonaro in a letter delivered on Hanuman Jayanti.
President Trump thanks Prime Minister Modi for helping the USA during this crisis, calls him terrific. He says, ‘US will remember this gesture!’ pic.twitter.com/31SzfH14jS
— Amit Malviya (@amitmalviya) April 9, 2020
Trump too thanked PM Modi for supply of HCQ. Countries like Malaysia, which criticized India’s domestic policies a few months ago, are also looking to Modi for supply of HCQ. India would obviously not behave like the United States, and supply the life-saving drug to the Islamic country. All this shows how the tables have turned in the last few decades. There was a time we were dependent on the US to satisfy our hunger but today the whole world is dependent on our life-saving drugs.