India’s prime minister advanced a muscular foreign policy, but his mishandling of the pandemic is an embarrassing step back. If India stumbles, the American dream of the Quad can never become a reality.
But now Modi’s supporters find their dreams of a global power shattered. They must instead confront the harsh reality of being citizens of a so-called “third world country,” which is dependent once again on the largesse of others. As the Indian economy continues to be hammered by the pandemic, there is little Modi can offer economically to his base. The edifice of nationalist pride, prestige, and global respect built by Modi on his so-called foreign-policy prowess has been demolished by the pandemic.
The pandemic has hurt India in other ways too. Australia, a member of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (or Quad), has imposed a ban on its citizens from returning home, threatening five-year prison sentences, if they have spent time in India. In its first leaders’ summit in March, the grouping decided to provide a billion doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to the Indo-Pacific region by 2022. The vaccines were to be produced in India, funded by the United States and Japan, and distributed by Australia, in what was seen as the showpiece initiative to move the Quad away from its security-centric approach and soften its reputation as an anti-China grouping. With India struggling to produce vaccines for its own citizens hit by the pandemic, it is unlikely the Quad will be able to keep its scheme on schedule. In the bargain, New Delhi’s position as the lynchpin of the Quad stands considerably diminished. If India stumbles, the American dream of the Quad can never become a reality.
By Sushant Singh, a senior fellow with the Centre for Policy Research in India.
This is an excerpt from an article published by Foreign Affairs.