Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi signed Thursday an arms deal with Israel worth hundreds of millions of dollars, as cases of the coronavirus infections are surging and concerns are rising over the country’s ability to face a health emergency of such magnitude.
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Israel will deliver to the Indian military 16,479 Negev light machine guns, the Indian government said in a statement.
The US$116 million contract was signed as doctors and health professionals in India continue to sound alarms about the shortage of masks and protective gear, pointing out the country’s ill preparation to deal with the crisis.
The weapons contract is part of a series of arms agreements between India and Israel under Modi and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
"The provisioning of this operationally urgent and very critically needed weapon will boost the confidence of the frontline troops and provide much-needed combat power to the Armed Forces," India's defense ministry said.
There have been around 536 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in India with 10 deaths reported. But like several other countries, it has barely done any tests and is now going through a spike in infections.
India's "total lockdown" began at midnight Tuesday and will continue for 21 days.
At a time of crisis with a fatal pandemic spreading like wildfire and concerns rising over the consequences it is likely to have on economies around the world, the decision to give priority to military spendings has sparked indignation among critics.
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A retired professor of International Relations and Global Politics at the University of Delhi, Achin Vanaik, described the move as "extraordinary and highly condemnable, especially as it becomes clear that authorities are well aware that official stats are a gross underestimation at this point."
"India needs every rupee to deal with the very real danger of the coronavirus pandemic spreading in a country of 1.3 billion people - living in densely populated cities and towns. As it is, compared to Europe, North America or even China and other countries in Asia, the medical system here is woefully under-equipped to deal with this emergency. This diversion of funds is deeply distressing," Vanaik told the MEE.
Likewise, many critics are denouncing the fact that the far-right government led by Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) chose to spend hundreds of millions on military purchases while it has so far not announced any measure to assist those who are losing their income sources as a result of the epidemic.
"People rendered suddenly jobless are forced to rush back to villages to survive, risking the spread of the virus as they go,” leader of the Communist Party of India Kavita Krishnan told MEE.
"Why is the government of India choosing to spend massive amounts on military purchases instead of prioritizing a corona relief package, medical infrastructure, free healthcare and testing for all right now?” Krishnan asked.