Pramila Jayapal emerges as a powerful voice for Indian needs during the pandemic at Capitol Hill
Indian-American Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, whom external affairs minister S. Jaishankar had boycotted in December 2019 for her criticism of India’s Kashmir policy, has emerged as a powerful voice for Indian needs during the second wave of the pandemic at Capitol Hill.
According to a PTI report from Washington, Jayapal, who recently returned to the US from India where her parents had tested Covid-positive, said on Thursday: “India needs our help — and it is our moral responsibility to rise to the challenge at the local, federal and international level because to defeat a global pandemic, we need a global response.”
Jayapal’s steadfast support was acknowledged by none other than India’s ambassador to the US, Taranjit Singh Sandhu. In a tweet on Thursday, he said: “In our conversation w/Congresswoman @RepJayapal, Chair of the Progressive Caucus, Amb. Mfeketo @RSAinDC & I discussed important issues relating to global public health incl. the TRIPS (Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) waiver. We thanked the Congresswoman for her steadfast support for the TRIPS waiver proposal.”
In our conversation w/ Congresswoman @RepJayapal, Chair of the Progressive Caucus, Amb. Mfeketo @RSAinDC & I discussed important issues relating to global public health incl. the TRIPS waiver.We thanked the Congresswoman for her steadfast support for the TRIPS waiver proposal. pic.twitter.com/3Mlw4GmwNF— Taranjit Singh Sandhu (@SandhuTaranjitS) May 6, 2021
Nomaindiya Cathleen Mfeketo is South Africa’s ambassador to the US. Sandhu was referring to the Joe Biden administration’s “support for waiving intellectual property protections for Covid-19 vaccines”, which was announced by US trade representative Katherine Tai on Wednesday.
Last year, India and South Africa had submitted a proposal to the TRIPS Council at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) for waiver of certain provisions of the TRIPS Agreement to facilitate affordable access to diagnosis, vaccines and therapeutics being developed to fight Covid-19. Around 60 developing countries had supported this proposal.
Jayapal has for weeks now been working with the Indian diaspora to mount pressure on the Biden administration to first, belatedly, offer assistance to India, release unused vaccines from the US stockpile for despatch to India, and also support the resolution at the WTO to temporarily waive the patent protections that the powerful pharma lobby was keen on having. The waiver call had the support of 100 legislators who had recently written to Biden in this regard.
In December 2019, during a visit to Washington, Jaishankar had cancelled a meeting with a Congressional delegation after it refused to exclude Jayapal from the interaction, drawing a sharp response not only from her but also fellow Democrat Kamala Harris who less than a year later was elected Vice-President of the US.
Even back then, Jaishankar’s surprise move — particularly since he is a career diplomat — had proved to be counter-productive as it drew more sponsors for a bipartisan resolution Jayapal had moved in the House of Representatives criticising the Kashmir clampdown.