Coronavirus push to SAARC: Thumbs-up for Modi’s pitch for Covid-19 video conference

SAARC, languishing in oblivion for years, seems to have been reignited by the coronavirus scare. All SAARC countries have accepted Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s call for a SAARC leaders’ meet through video conferencing to discuss the coronavirus situation in the region. Bangladesh, the Maldives, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan and Afghanistan readily accepted the proposal and praised PM Modi for this innovative initiative. Pakistan, too, has backed the proposal and has agreed to participate through a senior health official.

“I would like to propose that the leadership of SAARC nations chalk out a strong strategy to fight Coronavirus. We could discuss, via video conferencing, ways to keep our citizens healthy. Together, we can set an example to the world, and contribute to a healthier planet,” PM Modi said in a tweet.

The Maldives President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih promptly tweeted back, saying, “Thank you PM @narendramodi for taking the initiative on this important endeavor. Covid 19 requires collective effort to defeat it. Maldives welcomes this proposal and would fully support such a regional effort.” In another tweet, Mr Modi emphasized that South Asia should “leave no stone unturned” in its fight against coronavirus.

“Our planet is battling the Covid-19 Novel Coronavirus. At various levels, governments and people are trying their best to combat it. South Asia, which is home to a significant number of the global population, should leave no stone unturned to ensure our people are healthy,” he said.

Regional Solidarity

Welcoming PM Modi’s proposal, Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa said it is a “great initiative” and the region needed to stand in “solidarity” during these “trying” times. “Thank you for the great initiative Shri @narendramodi – #LKA is ready to join the discussion & share our learnings & best practices and to learn from other #SAARC members. Let’s unite in solidarity during these trying times and keep our citizens safe,” he tweeted.

Bhutan’s Prime Minister Lotay Tshering said PM Modi’s initiative was an example of leadership. “This is what we call leadership. As members of this region, we must come together in such times. Smaller economies are hit harder, so we must coordinate. With your leadership, I have no doubt we will see immediate and impactful outcome. Looking forward to the video conference,” a tweet from Mr Tshering’s official twitter account @PM said.

Nepalese Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli welcomed the idea and said his government was ready to work closely with SAARC member states to protect the citizens. “I welcome the idea advanced by Prime Minister Modiji @narendramodi for chalking out a strong strategy by the leadership of the SAARC nations to fight Coronavirus. My government is ready to work closely with SAARC Member States to protect our citizens from this deadly disease,” Mr Oli tweeted.

The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation or SAARC comprises eight countries: India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, and the Maldives.

Is India reviving SAARC?

The SAARC had become virtually moribund after India declined to participate in the SAARC summit to be hosted by Pakistan due to the latter’s alleged role in perpetrating cross-border terror in 2016. India also mobilized other SAARC countries to say no to SAARC summit in Pakistan.

Is the latest gesture by Prime Minister Modi a sign of India wanting to revive SAARC? “There is no clarity yet, but Mr Modi’s proposal for video-conferencing to discuss regional coordination in the wake of coronavirus indicates that India has not written off the SAARC entirely. Modi is also sending the message that the region should together in face of common threats and pandemics like SAARC,” said Manish Chand, Editor-in-Chief, India Writes Network and India and the World magazine. It’s a recognition of SAARC’s continuing relevance in difficult times like these that require collective regional response.

PM Modi had also advised his ministers not to travel abroad because of the high risk of contracting the disease. “Say No to Panic, Say Yes to Precautions. No Minister of the Central Government will travel abroad in the upcoming days. I urge our countrymen to also avoid non-essential travel. We can break the chain of spread and ensure safety of all by avoiding large gatherings,” PM Modi tweeted on March 11.

Earlier, PM Modi had postponed his visit to Dhaka to participate in the inaugural ceremony of the birth centenary celebrations of its founder Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Bangladesh had initially scheduled the event on March 17 but later postponed it. PM Modi will now join the celebrations through video conference.

Covid-19 has claimed over 4,600 lives and infected more than 125,048 people across 118 countries since it originated in China late in December last year. India has reported 74 cases, including one death, so far.

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India Writes Network
India Writes Network
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