The Minister of External Affairs for India (EAM Jaishankar, in his recent interviews, has constantly argued for the need to reinstate normalcy and instilling confidence within the people of the world. Even today, during the Global Dialogue Series, the EAM argued for policy decisions which are suited to best serve the society. When it comes to international relations, this idea holds true as well.
What India is facing now, is almost like a replay of the havoc wrecked by the pandemic in several other parts of the world, be it North America or the United Kingdom, and even more severely in other smaller countries. At that time, India had ramped up its efforts as quickly as possible and offered its support to those in need, be it HCQ for the US and Singapore, or Vaccine Maitri where millions of doses of COVID-19 vaccines were sent to countries around the world, including the United Kingdom.
This wasn’t just setting precedent; it was an undeniable display of India’s solidarity with the world, and its commitment to help combat a global pandemic, with any and all means available to the world.
After having to cancel a visit to India owing to another wave of infections in the UK in January, and again in April due to surge in infections in India, Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi and Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Boris Johnson decided to hold a Virtual Bilateral Summit which was successfully concluded on May 4, 2021. The summit also comes as a precursor to the in-person G7 summit scheduled to be held next month i.e., June 2021 which India would be attending as a guest, after an invitation has been extended by the United Kingdom.
The Indian delegation, led by PM Modi held extensive discussions with their British counterparts led by PM Johnson. Both leaders agreed to further bolster and significantly upgrade the existing relations between the two nations to a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership. The two most important facets of this development, i.e. the Enhanced Trade Partnership (ETP) and the far-reaching Roadmap 2030 for India-UK relations in the future, have been in the pipeline for quite some time now.
Over the course of the last week and given the unprecedented surge in the COVID-19 infections in India, several batches containing essential medical supplies had arrived in India from the UK. Moreover, with a sizeable chunk of the Indian diaspora in the UK (1.6 million), the ETP, arguably the trial phase in search of a more solid Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between London and New Delhi, may very well be the beginning of a new chapter in diplomatic relations.
When the COVID-19 first appeared in India, Indian innovation – be it in the field of healthcare, AI-powered tracking, FinTech or the Pharmaceutical industry – achieved great success. The Indian Government’s support and motivation in this area also took a more concrete shape in the form of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on an India-UK Global Innovation Partnership. This MoU, came in addition to the one signed for cooperation in the Telecommunication/ICT field and a Joint Declaration of Intent for cooperation in the field of Digital and Technology.
Following the development of vaccines against COVID-19, India has emerged as one of the largest vaccine manufacturers, while simultaneously running the world’s largest vaccination drive. One of the first candidates to receive the regulatory nod was Covishield; the vaccine developed by the joint efforts of UK’s Oxford University and Pharma giant AstraZeneca is being produced in India. Moreover, with the background of assistance provided by New Delhi to London and vice-versa during times of crisis, the MoU on Pharmacopoeial Cooperation between the Indian Pharmacopoeia Commission (IPC) and the British Pharmacopoeia (BP), in addition to one on Pharmaceutical regulations, will certainly equip both nations significantly better in their respective efforts to fight against COVID-19 and any other similar scenarios in the future.
Another significant development, with India’s repeated calls for a reformed Multilateral Order for the world, has been the decision to strengthen and synergise the cooperation on Multi-national platforms like the UN, WTO, G20, WHO, World Bank etc. This was also a part of the plan for reaffirmed friendly relations between New Delhi and London under the Roadmap 2030. Moreover, the support that PM Modi received from his British counterpart PM Johnson on the Indo-Pacific cooperation. The decision agreed upon by the two to further strengthen Maritime cooperation will be an added boost to the call for a free, open and peaceful Indo-Pacific region.
India’s commitment for sustainable development for a cleaner environment that aims to check climate change was also a highlight of the discussions held between the two leaders. An enhanced convergence, by a more pragmatic dialogue backed by substantial actions was also agreed upon. Moreover, the area of sustainable and green development will most likely be one of the pivotal criteria defining the India-UK relations in the future.
A deeper and larger understanding between New Delhi and London cannot be disputed, especially after the recently concluded summit. Recent collaborations and support that the nations provided each other during their times of crisis, have emerged as one of the prime examples of the possibilities in the future, not just between UK and India, but also the entire world.
When Prime Minister Narendra Modi repeatedly highlighted the need for a more inclusive and robust multilateral collaboration for the world, it was seen as an argument ahead of its time. However, with the COVID-19 pandemic wreaking havoc around the globe, pre-emptive decisions are the only aspect that have an immensely successful track record.