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Impact of Covid 19 on India’s Foreign Policy

Impact of Covid 19 on India’s Foreign Policy


  • GS 2 || International Relations || Indian Foreign Policy || Challenges of IFP

Why in the news?

Covid-19 pandemic has effected all the aspect of nation do it micro, small or macro economy but also had impacted Indian foreign policy

Strategic Consequences of India’s COVID-19 Crisis

  • As the seriousness of India’s coronavirus outbreak’s second wave became clearer to the rest of the world, a number of countries (roughly 40) pledged to send medical supplies to India, including oxygen, vaccine materials, and therapeutics, while searching for other ways to address the crisis.
  • COVID-19 has already wreaked havoc on India’s economy, leaving the country weakened and poor as a result of a disastrous combination of new viral strains and a lack of public health preparedness.
  • These obstacles have coincided with India’s aspirations to play a leading role in global politics as a role shaper. Particularly because it now has to deal with the structural realities of a rising power in its neighborhood (China), one that refuses to play by the rules established by others.
  • The danger posed by China to India is a microcosm of the threat posed by the Chinese Communist Party’s nefarious intentions to the liberal order. When power changes, consequences emerge; some are structural, like balancing and band-wagoning, while others are bureaucratic and normative, like balancing and band-wagoning.

India’s foreign diplomacy during Covid:

  • Unrestrict HCQ Drug: When there was a global demand for the drug HCQ, India lifted its ban on exports of the drug.
  • Medical Assistance: India dispatched medical teams to neighboring countries to assist governments in combating rising COVID-19 cases.
  • Vaccine Supply: India exported over 66 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines to 95 countries as part of its massive Vaccine Maitri program.
  • Leading the charge in multilateral diplomacy: The Quad initiative aims to produce one billion vaccines that will be distributed to Southeast Asian nations.
  • Fight at the WTO: India and South Africa are lobbying the WTO to get all vaccine patents (TRIPs) waived for the duration of the coronavirus pandemic.

What went wrong from India’s side?

  • Claiming Victory before victory : The government failed to predict the current second wave crisis and sent the wrong message to the international community when Prime Minister Modi announced on January 29th at the Davos forum that the country had won the COVID-19 battle. At the time, India was seeing about 11,000 new cases a day and 1.5 lakh active cases across the country. At present India is facing more than 4 lakh cases everyday with more than 4000 death everyday
  • Poor domestic and trade preparedness: Over the past few weeks, India has failed to leverage its strengths to increase hospital bed strength, pharma supplies, and oxygen production through imports, as well as not halting those exports, such as pharmaceuticals and oxygen, that were most needed.
  • Vaccine Maitri program but at wrong time: India started the Vaccine Maitri program at the same time as the domestic vaccination program, without adequately estimating the need or urgency of vaccinating the entire Indian population.
  • Vaccine Exporter to Vaccine Importer: With the government declaring vaccines for all ages over 18 to be available to the public beginning May 1st, India has gone from being a vaccine exporter to requiring vaccine imports, including the Russian Sputnik vaccine, Johnson and Johnson vaccines, Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, and others.

Impacts on India’s foreign policy:

  • India’s regional dominance (in South Asia) will dwindle in the future:
    • The traditional primacy of India in the region was based on a combination of material assistance, political clout, and historical links.
    • The pandemic has hampered India’s ability to provide material assistance to its immediate neighbors in terms of growth and political autonomy.
    • As a result, South Asian countries are likely to turn to China for financial assistance.
  • India’s strategic dreams of becoming a world power would be harmed:
    • India’s strength to contribute to the Indo-Pacific and Quad can be impacted by the pandemic.
    • COVID-19, for example, would thwart any aggressive military expenditure or modernization plans.
    • It also reduces the country’s bending and attention on international diplomacy and regional geopolitics.
    • India’s strength to project strength and contribute to the Quad’s development would be impacted by decreased military expenditure and a lack of diplomatic attention to regional geopolitics.
    • India’s inability to take the lead and China’s power to overtake smaller states away from the Indo-Pacific with aid and threats might tip the power balance in China’s favor.
  • The ruling government’s change in orientation to domestic politics in the coming years would minimize India’s ability to experiment with new foreign policy initiatives:
    • Economic distress, a drop in foreign direct investment and industrial output, and an increase in unemployment, for example, would force the center to concentrate on COVID-19 recovery. This will constrain India’s global strategic aspirations.
  • Invasion of India’s Strategic Space by the Chinese:
    • China has already pushed India into its strategic space, the Indian subcontinent, through its cheque book diplomacy.
    • The second wave of Covid-19 has accelerated this phase, as India’s ability to stand up to China has deteriorated dramatically in recent years: in terms of material strength, balance of power considerations, and political will.
  • India’s foreign policy in the neighborhood can have become more accommodative, reconciliatory, and cooperative. (SAARC countries):
    • India has been forced to rethink the friend-enemy equations of global geopolitics as a result of the pandemic. While the United States was reluctant to help India during the pandemic, Pakistan and China did.
  • India’s ability to exercise strategic autonomy could be curtailed. For example, after COVID-19, India will find it more difficult to resist demands for a closer military relationship with the United States.
  • SAARC framework:
    • One positive outcome would be the opening up of new regional possibilities for cooperation under the SAARC system, as every crisis brings with it the potential of reform.
    • SAARC countries should work together to foster ‘regional health multilateralism,’ which promotes mutual aid and joint action in the event of a health emergency.
    • Furthermore, geopolitics in South Asia should be treated equally to health diplomacy, environmental issues, and regional connectivity.
  • Affecting India’s Engagement with Quad:
    • India’s ability to project influence and contribute to the Quad’s growth would be uncertain with reduced military expenditure and less diplomatic attention to regional geopolitics as a result of Covid-19.
  • US-China Relations: With China’s rise and India’s Covid-19-related issues, the US may be compelled to normalize relations with China.
  • India-China Relations: Another possible consequence of COVID-19’s destructive return and the harm it has caused is that India could be forced to be more accommodating to China.
  • India-US Ties: Post-COVID-19 India-US Ties India will find it more difficult to resist US demands for a closer military partnership.

Way forward:

  • Leveraging SAARC: COVID-19 would also open up new regional opportunities for cooperation, especially under the auspices of SAARC, an initiative that saw some preliminary success during the pandemic’s first wave. India should concentrate the region’s collective attention on “regional health multilateralism” to encourage mutual aid and joint action in health emergencies like this.
  • Regional Health Multilateralism: India will do well to concentrate the region’s collective attention on “regional health multilateralism” in order to facilitate mutual assistance and joint action in the face of health emergencies like this.


Every crisis provides every aspect of life and work an opportunity for creative thinking and reform which can be very beneficial for the future. Since the diplomatic bandwidth for ambitious foreign policy objectives will be small, Indian foreign policy in the post-Covid-19 era is unlikely to be business as normal. However, Covid-19 could have provided the world’s least integrated zone with just such an opportunity. Covid-19 would also open up new regional opportunities for cooperation, especially under the auspices of SAARC, an initiative that saw some preliminary success during the pandemic’s first wave. India will do well to concentrate the region’s collective attention on “regional health multilateralism” in order to facilitate mutual assistance and joint action in the face of health emergencies like this.

Mains oriented question:

To what degree will India’s claim to regional primacy and leadership be impacted by the raging pandemic? Discuss the overt and indirect effects of Covid-19’s second wave on India’s foreign policy.