Kamala Harris hails India’s vaccination drive in first meeting with Narendra Modi in Washington

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US vice president Kamala Harris hailed India’s Covid vaccination drive during her first meeting with the country’s prime minister Narendra Modi on Thursday.

Praising the country’s role in the global battle with the pandemic, she said: “On Covid-19, our nations have worked together. Early in the pandemic, India was a vital source of vaccines for other countries.”

She also welcomed India’s decision to resume the export of vaccines, which was stopped in April as the country prioritised inoculating its own population following a surge in the infections during a crippling second wave. The crisis was compounded by a shortage of oxygen cylinders and hospital beds, leading to deaths, and an acute vaccine shortage in large states.

“When India experienced the surge of Covid in the country, the United States was very proud to support India in its need and responsibility to vaccinate its people, and I welcome India’s announcement that it will soon be able to resume vaccine exports," Ms Harris said in a joint statement issued with Mr Modi. “It is of particular note and admiration that India is currently vaccinating approximately 10 million people a day as of today.”

India has vaccinated around 7 million to 8 million people a day this week. It inoculated 10 million people only on Monday. And though a record 25 million doses were administered on 17 September to mark the birthday of Mr Modi, this one-off drive is being scrutinised amid reports of data irregularities and fake certification.

The pandemic in India has claimed over 400,000 lives by very conservative official figures, which many experts describe as an understatement.

Meanwhile, Mr Modi called India and America “natural partners” owing to their “similar values” and “geopolitical interests” as he invited the Indian-origin vice-president to the country. “The people of India are waiting to welcome you,” he said.

“You are the source of inspiration for so many people across the world. I am completely confident that our bilateral relationship will touch new heights under President Biden and your leadership,” Mr Modi, who had earlier endorsed the re-election of former president Donald Trump for 2020, told Ms Harris.

Recalling their phone conversation during the intense second wave of Covid in India, Mr Modi said: “Like a family, the sense of kinship and so warmly, you extended a helping hand, the words that you chose when you spoke to me, I will always remember that, and I’d like to thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

During their meeting the two leaders spoke at length about a range of issues, with Harris telling reporters they discussed ways of cementing the Indo-American strategic partnership, climate change and global threats to democracy. Indian officials said they also covered the Taliban’s takeover in Afghanistan and Pakistan’s role in “supporting terrorist groups”.

Briefing reporters on the talks, India’s foreign secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla said that “when the issue of terrorism came up, vice president suo motu (without prompting) referred to Pakistan’s role in that regard”.

“She agreed with the prime minister’s briefing on the fact of cross-border terrorism, and the fact that India has been a victim of terrorism for several decades now and on the need to rein in and closely monitor Pakistan’s support for such terrorist groups,” he added.

In 2019, Ms Harris had criticised Mr Modi after his Bharatiya Janata Party moved to revoke the special constitutional status of Jammu and Kashmir. “We have to remind Kashmiris that they are not alone in the world. We are keeping a track on the situation. There is a need to intervene if the situation demands,” she had said in October 2019.

Ms Harris has not commented further on the situation since assuming office.

Mr Modi’s three-day trip to Washington will end on Friday after he meets president Joe Biden for the first time since the latter assumed the presidency.

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