Thursday, 24 November, 2022
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Aap chronology samajhiye: Did Modi buckle under Trump’s pressure on HCQ for COVID-19?

Hydroxychloroquine & paracetamol are cheap, generic drugs long off-patent. India has unique strength to make these for the world. It should use it, not squat on it.

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You have to be quite reckless to be seen like defending both Donald Trump and Narendra Modi. Even if on the tiny issue of a two-rupee, or three-cents-a-pill of a drug, so old it was in the market for two full years before I was born, and went off-patent when I was 32. Namely, hydroxychloroquine.

And you must be absolutely nuts if at the same time you also take on anti-Americanism, the most durable of our ideological hypocrisies. Cast in titanium.

But after four decades in journalism and courting danger — and abuse — from all sides, let me do some plain-speaking.

To begin with, as the currently fashionable expression goes: Aap chronology samajhiye. It was in his daily White House press conference on 19 March that Trump first mentioned hydroxychloroquine, or HCQ as it’s popularly known. He said there had been encouraging results among coronavirus patients administered HCQ and Z-Pak (American brand name for antibiotic Azithromycin).

Trump can be accused of anything but not understatement or discretion. So, he called this a game-changer. On 21 March, he re-asserted this in a tweet.

On 22 March, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) issued a notification prescribing HCQ as a chemoprophylactic (preventive) for health personnel as well as family members looking after a Covid-19 patient. This set off a run on the drug.

Also read: Hydroxychloroquine: The special drug Trump and the world is dialling PM Modi for

While Trump was roundly attacked and ridiculed as usual in the American media for ‘misusing’ his office to plug prescription medications, the US placed large orders with leading generic manufacturers in India. This fact was scooped by ThePrint’s fine health and pharma reporter Himani Chandna in a story published on 22 March. Three days later, India notified a ban on export of HCQ.

Alarmed at the prospect of hoarding and panicky self-medication, the central government issued a notification on 26 March listing it in Schedule H1, thereby restricting its retail sale.

Remember, the ban had come after the US, and likely also Brazil, had already placed orders and also paid some advances to private Indian firms for what was, after all, a routine, long off-patent, cheap drug. Or drugs, as Brazil wanted paracetamol too.

After Democrats and the media had had fun with “Dr Trump”, on 20 March, New York Governor and current liberal darling Andrew Cuomo told anchor Sean Hannity that he’s getting 10,000 doses of HCQ and Azithromycin and releasing it for a trial on 1,100 patients in his state, now the global Covid-19 epicentre.


On Saturday (4 April) morning, Trump called Modi. In the evening at his press conference he said that he had requested Modi to release the supplies of HCQ “we had ordered”. He said Modi said he will consider it. He, of course, went on to say that they (India) make a lot of it, which is true. He further added that India also needs a lot of it (true), because it has 1.5 billion people (not true).

Sunday, 5 April, morning, Trump spoke with Modi again. In reply to a journalist’s question at his Monday evening (Washington time, remember, so around 4 am IST Tuesday) press briefing, Trump let it out that he had had another conversation with Modi Sunday morning (Washington time) and that India was likely to release the HCQ US had ordered earlier. What if India says no, the reporter asked, will there be a retaliation? I don’t believe that is what they are planning to do at all, said Trump, India and US are doing very well with each other. And then added, as an afterthought, if they say no, of course there may be retaliation, why wouldn’t that be?

We woke up to outrage this morning. Trump twisted Modi’s arm and he gave in. India is down on its knees in front of the Americans again. Modi has sold Indian sovereignty and Covid-19 patients’ lives to Trump.

Now, the little point I had deliberately excluded in my chronology for suspense. Three respected media organisations, HT Group’s Mint, The Hindu, and (please allow me to add) ThePrint, had reported Monday, 6 April, 12 to 18 hours before Trump’s Monday evening presser, that India had already decided to lift the ban.

In fact, The Hindu and Mint had recorded that Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro had called as well, and the ban was lifted for him too.

It was all done and dusted before Trump’s “threat” this morning. Please do remember the time difference between Washington and New Delhi.

But facts are boring, you see. Why let facts come in the way of your ‘tube-light’ outrage?

HCQ and paracetamol are cheap, generic, mass-produced drugs long off-patent. India has the unique strength to make these for the world now. It should use it, not squat on it. Covid-19 has made these drugs, usually sold in bulk, like a commodity, valuable to the world. If heads of state are calling in for these, it is India’s opportunity. And, by the way, the raw material or API (Active Pharmaceutical Ingredient) for paracetamol comes from China. From Wuhan, in fact.

And surrender to America? What did we call it through the 1960s, when we lived a ship-to-mouth existence? It was also our most anti-American decade. Today, the Americans need an ordinary drug, and we must deny it to them? The reason we call unthinking anti-Americanism our most durable, cast-in-titanium hypocrisy.

Also read: Can India balance its domestic pharma needs and also be a global player in Covid-19 fight?


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  1. If everything is done and dusted in so far as the ban on HCQ is concerned, why does Trump need to warn and coerce India at all? And all this – Trump’s request and subsequent intimidation – happens within a span of two days. And to think US and India diplomatically are so close!
    It is intriguing that US is incapable of commercial manufacture of a cheap, generic out of patent drug in their laboratories for emergency use! There surely more than that meets the eye in Trump’s maneuver and Modi’s instant obeissance!

  2. Congratulations as the Print , Remember IE a
    As truth, praying to kolgaon Baba blessing and grace always Team India mission for peace and love one India one world 125 crs plus wish we know US in every field my way or highway wrong or right now we want to have finger in every pie, we have lot on plate so let’s contribute to world crisis as we know US turns, on Good Friday “Oh God forgive them they don’t know what they are doing”:

  3. Pata nahi kya likha hai, ya fir hag k leep diya hai is article k writer ne. Ye bhi koi NEWS hai, jabardasti saale kuch bhi man ghadant kahani bana rhe.

  4. No time so called hard bargainer meekly surrendered to arm twist tactics of big brother. Somersaults order of the day.

  5. Govt didnt clarify themselves but sent people like you to clarify with baseless reasonings. Kuch bharat nata ki khatir bhi journalism kar liya karo, log dua denge.

  6. Trump made 2 calls for the same thing “to get the drug released”. Was the second call a “thanking” call !!
    Journalists can praise the government, but you are seen defending government and blame opposition for the brauhaha.
    At least one should seek facts on how much stockpile is available and how much can be exported without serious shortage. The flip-flop(ban and it’s lifting) itself creates enough doubts in everybody’s minds that we may have a crisis.

    It is also true that in the times of pandemic declared by WHO, we may have some international obligations to meet. These aspects have to be highlighted.
    No one is blaming modi’s government here but seeking some clarity which should be explained without grandstanding that modi can do no wrong.

  7. Trump would never dare threaten Putin, Xi or even MBS. Even with South Korea he went quitely hat in hand asking for supplies.

    Yet with India he felt fine threatening us and Modi instead of being strong, quickly capitulated. And Trump is bragging about it. For the people saying the USA will send India help, go back and read your history or even Trump’s recent actions with allies. This all shows what USA really thinks of India and where India sits on the global power scale.

    Also monsoon season is coming up. We may need the drugs to combat malaria as well. If India wants to be a true world power and have respect it needs to be tougher with tougher leaders. Indra Gandhi was tough and the Iron Lady. And Modi I’m sorry to say is no Indra Gandhi.

    • Do you know how many HCQ capsules tablets are needed by India?
      How many are already in the stock?
      What is the production capacity of Indian companies?

      Any statement without facts is just a reflection of inherent biases.

  8. In fact, The Hindu and Mint had recorded that Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro had called as well, and the ban was lifted for him too.

    It was all done and dusted before Trump’s “threat” this morning. Please do remember the time difference between Washington and New Delhi.

    These are enough to expose prestitutes

  9. It is very simple question if Covid 19 virus further spread in india in deep and intensify, and further requirement of Medical equipment arise and supposed USA have surplus or part quantity then indian will hope to USA will come for our help. If situation in USA may further deepen and has our PM refused to help for small , low cost tablet whuch plenty available in india, then india will.join hand with any country with such a face. I think.wharever the Our PM.hs done it wass or is or will be right decision. I will salute to my PM

  10. Mr Gupta completely misses the point that Trump ,known for his plainspeakinug most probably made the threat in his phone calls to Modi as well-and not just in the press conference and is he trying to suggest that the two phone calls from Trump over the weekend had no bearing on the government’s decision to revoke the ban immediately afterwards?
    .In any case ,it is all a storm in a teacup as there is no real proof that Hydroxychloroquine works for COVID and Trump in his infinite wisdom has decided to recommend the drug as a miracle cure when his own medical advisor and USA’s premier Infectious disease expert,Dr Faucihimself has said it is all nonsense.

  11. In any case efficacy of an antimalarial to combat a novel virus must be doubtful. It’s utility may be equal to a placebo. All kinds of remedies are floating now.

    • इसमें कोई गलत नही है, यदि ट्रम्प के धमकी के बाद भी मोदी दवा पर प्रतिबंध हटाते है। जी हाँ, इसमें कोई गलती नही है। और न ही इसमें कोई शर्म की बात है।

      लेकिन इस प्रकरण में मोदी जी का छिछा लेदर इसलिए हुआ क्योंकि उन्होंने खुद को भगवान बना रखें है।

      दूसरा पहलू यह है कि धमकी को मीडिया कैसे प्यार दिखा रहा है? काबिले तारीफ है। जब खुद पर आता है तो सब बदल जाता है।

  12. The reporter never asked about retaliation by US against India, he asked about retaliation TO US policy of banning ITS exports!!!

  13. The reason is there are several drugs that requires API imported from other countries especially China! These imports are either barely open right now! How will they produce if they don’t have API!

  14. I told my father not to stockpile too much of his neurotic drugs. He’s already finding it hard to get them. Since the adjacent shops don’t have stock. Probably because their buying capacity has decreased and they are only stocking the common ones or the supply is scarce! Only the bigger stores have the now which is also of old stock!

  15. Think about it. There are many sectors of food production that are running at 50% capacity already. Do you think pharma is doing any better? People are being told not to stockpile while the supply is getting lower day by day. People who listened and did not, are regretting their decision!

  16. The thing is that it is only obvious that India exports anything that we actually produce more than we need in a specific span! However, right now, the labor unions are an issue which we often forget which leads to a shortage which might be small right now, but evidently will be worse and I will not be surprised if in 20days, we come to a point where supply/demand ratio is 1.

  17. The article presumes that Trump made his threat only in the press conference (which took place after India had already decided to lift the ban). It could bery well be the case Trump made a similiar threat in his phone call with Modi: and it’s very possible that Modi succumbed to such a threat. Trump’s ‘request’ was probably also a ‘threat’. Should this be the case, then the bru ha ha is indeed not without basis….

  18. India can produce more and undue course can become World leader in pharmaceutical. secondly we shall never forget culture of humanity of India.

  19. We, the readers, are fed by the media, and our reactions are based on such feed. Occasionally, opposition parties may also feast on some feed, hoping it would provide them with enough masala to target the government. Now that you’re saving India didn’t cave in, let’s bury the matter and you may please move on with your immediate journalistic duties.

  20. Don’t be apologetic for Modi, yes for Modi, Mr. Gupta. Trump said there will be retaliation.Simple and pure.

  21. India has a huge population. God forbid, if COVID-19 spreads far and deep, then do we have enough supplies for local requirements? That is question number 1. The second question is, was the first question answered by medical professionals? (or by Modi ji himself?) If the answer to both these questions is yes, then India must export to help the world and also make some money for itself.
    Call it my prejudiced mind or whatever, but I am sure the answer to the first question is NO, because answer to the second question is as per the doubt mentioned in its parentheses.

    • How can you say plainly that we do not have enough supplies for local requirements. Also, America’s budgets on R&D is 20 times more than India, certainly their chance of finding a vaccine first is much more than India.
      In that case, India will also require to get vaccines or technology from them.

      • Fair point. But handing over your STOCKPILE, and sharing your KNOWHOW are two different things. I have not said that if Biocon or some other Indian pharma company has developed the “knowhow”, we shouldn’t share it with the Americans or others. I am advocating miserliness about our “stockpile”.
        Similarly, if America develops the knowhow, it will definitely share it with the rest of the world, but it will surely ask its pharma companies to first support the local requirement.

  22. I wish Big Pharma firms quickly come out with a drug for COVID-19 and allow India firms to manufacture it at mass scale. This will be a a kind of Y2K moment for Indian Pharma.

  23. Could you please provide the link for The Hindu April 6th article on India’s decision to lift the ban ?

  24. Great write-up! With proper facts, and in chronology! And it clears all doubts about Trump’s so-called retaliation against India. The other media outlets should learn from this how to do reporting. Shekhar Gupta is definitely one of the best Indian reporters we have.

  25. Don’t be a sycophant Guptaji, Modiji will not be angry if you criticize him once in a while

  26. I totally agree with Shekarji. His pointing out chronology with crisp details is absolute to the point. All other media was just looking at sensationalism the issue. Indian commies anti americanism will never go away. Even 1962 war with China, Indian Chinese supported only China.

  27. Your views on report appearing in the Indian Express today.(8.4.20).
    I am totally confused.

  28. Chronology tho teek he… But what about the outcome of much celebrated ‘ Namaste Trump’ mega show ? Was it mere campaign for Trump’s presidential run? Why PM Modi failed to win the trust of Trump even after repeated calls? Why Trump took the extreme step using language of ” retaliation” against India even after talking to a friend indeed?

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