U.S. civil rights activist Rev. Jesse Jackson, Sr. (right) with Indian American public health expert Vijay Prabhakar. (IANS photo)

CHENNAI (IANS) – Eminent American civil rights activist Reverend Jesse Jackson, Sr.’s efforts have paved the way for Vice President Kamala Harris calling up Prime Minister Narendra Modi and announcing the allocation of Covid vaccines doses to India, said Vijay Prabhakar, an Indian American public health expert in Chicago.

A product of Madras Medical College, Prabhakar, who is also the Global Ambassador of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, was the first person of color to receive the U.S. Public Health Service's HIS Director's Award of Excellence in 1992 during President Bill Clinton's administration for his pioneering work as the Health Commissioner for the native American tribe, Winnebago, from 1986-1992.

He is also the chairman of the American Association for Multi-Ethnic Physicians and the founder chair of Congressman Danny Davis' Multi-Ethnic Advisory Task Force in Chicago.

Prabhakar told IANS in an exclusive interview that in a zoom call with Tamil Nadu Finance Minister PTR Thiagarajan on May 21, Rev. Jesse Jackson, Sr. had assured that Covid assistance is on its way to strengthen the state's fight against the pandemic.

The Higher Education Minister of Maharashtra, Uday Samant, too had requested Rev. Jackson to intervene on behalf of India for vaccine allocation.

Here are the excerpts from the interview:

Q. You have said that the U.S. government has allocated Covid vaccines to India after the meeting between U.S. President Joe Biden and Rev. Jackson. Please elaborate.

A. Yes, it was a historic meeting Jackson had with Biden at Tulsa, Oklahoma, on June 1, which helped my motherland, India, to receive Covid vaccine jabs.

Jackson has been relentlessly pursuing with the U.S. administration and to the world at large to aid India at this unprecedented crisis. President Biden then made a commitment to connect to the White House staff with the Reverend to ensure efficiency in communication and distribution of the U.S. donated vaccines to India.

I myself had briefed the president about how Congressman Danny Davis had on May 2 kick-started the coming together of Indian American and mainstream community leaders that triggered Jackson's initiative to highlight the urgent need to help India combat the second Covid wave, by hosting press meets in Chicago, Washington DC and Atlanta.

This meeting had led to the announcement by Vice President Kamala Harris and her call to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. President Biden listened carefully and responded most expressively to all our requests and we see this as a huge positive step in India-U.S. relations.

We have a responsive president in Biden who is ready to rise to the occasion and acts swiftly to immediately resolve the situation with his admirable leadership.

Q. Several observers and critics have opined that President Biden does not hold a good perception of India. How come you were able to convince him on the Indian requirement for vaccines?

A. It was a very challenging experience as we had to use all our own resources and personal connections developed over the years to come up with a result-oriented strategy. The 2020 presidential elections and the Indian diaspora having their own choices along with certain sections of the community trying to continuously paint a negative image of India has made our task very difficult but it did not deter our sustained efforts to come to India's aid.

There was a stiff competition from other countries also making out their cause for the U.S. donated vaccines. It is to the credit of the U.S. Congressman Danny Davis who inspired me to lead the crusade for getting vaccines to India at any odds and it was the inspiring leadership of Jackson who was constantly engaged in dialogue with President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris's office from May 7 to June 1 that resulted in the U.S. allowing vaccines to India.

The meeting we had with the Indian Ambassador in the U.S. Taranjit Sandhu along with India's Deputy Chief of mission Sudhakar Dalela on May 21 at Washington, DC and the constant encouragement and feedback from India's Consul General in Chicago Amit Kumar played a vital role in this initiative.

At the end of the day, it is the community activated diplomacy that succeeded against all odds and criticisms.

Q. It is learned that you had mentioned to President Biden to distribute a portion of the allocated vaccine doses to the Indian states of Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu. Your comments.

A. After news reports came out that Jackson had officially thanked both the U.S. president and vice president for their open statement that the U.S. would allocate 80 million vaccines overseas in his press conference, Maharashtra's Higher and Technical Education Minister Uday Samant called up Jackson to thank him for his efforts to have the Biden, Harris administration commitment to donate 80 million vaccines overseas.

Samant then requested Jackson to press for an immediate release of vaccine doses to India with an allocation for Maharashtra. This was followed by a zoom meeting initiated by Tamil Nadu Finance Minister P.T.R. Thiagarajan with Jackson on the instructions of the state's Chief minister M.K. Stalin.

He apprised Jackson of the Covid crisis situation in India and emphasized on the need for America's urgent assistance to India and also spoke about the TN government's shortfall of vaccines.

Q. Thiagarajan has said that he had reached out to the U.S .government for vaccines to India and allocation to Tamil Nadu through the offices of Jackson and you. Please comment on this.

A. As I have said earlier, Thiagarajan was one of the three leaders from India to have the foresight to reach out to Jackson along with Samant and former Union Minister and Member of Parliament K.J. Alphons.

Thiagarajan has had his higher education in prestigious institutions in the U.S. and was following the U.S. media closely and seized upon the opportunity to present India's case very eloquently.

He also drew a parallel to the Civil Rights movement in the U.S. to the Dravidian Movement in South India.

Jackson was emotionally moved by PTR's presentation and he immediately sent a video message to people of India, "Help is on its way. Let not your spirit be broken, Hold on, Dawn of the morning is coming. We will conquer this disease. Keep hope alive. God bless you all. Love you all."

Q. Taking forward this success, will you be playing a significant role in India-U.S. relationship?

A. I will do all that I can for my motherland to further strengthen the Indo-US relations. I take it as a bounden duty to ensure that India's name is not tarnished by any section of the community by their false propaganda funneled by vested interests.

You will be interested to note that the same team led by me along with Santhosh Kumar, executive director, Metropolitan Asian Family Services, Chicago; Bharat Barai, eminent oncologist and chair, US-India Friendship Council, Munster, Indiana; worked hard to defeat an India resolution introduced in the City Council of Chicago on March 24 this year.

The June 1 meeting with President Biden has established a firm foundation for leveraging Indo-U.S. relations in a fresh perspective. We have just begun and there is a lot of work to be done in reference to India's Covid relief efforts.

We are working towards getting different players from India to directly purchase vaccines, medications, and equipment from manufacturers here in the USA. I will personally work towards evolving a new narrative to engage Indo-U.S. relations that will be inclusive and result-oriented.

Q. Indian External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar was in the U.S. last week for scouting vaccines. What is your view on his journey to the U.S. for the vaccine?

A. It is really good that India's External Affairs Minister Jaishankar visited the U.S. and met key officials pleading India's case. However, India must now realize that the Biden-Harris administration is very people-centric, result-oriented, and minority-driven.

India must explore informal channels and give legitimacy to community diplomacy with a formal approach to significantly strengthen Indo-U.S. relations given the geopolitics in this new digital age. The official diplomatic channels are doing an excellent job and working beyond to pursue their agenda, but this is not enough to bridge the gap and combat India's critics.

The need of the hour is to have Indian American community leaders effectively engage the Biden-Harris administration with a fresh narrative of meaningful purpose driven partnerships with a focus on grass root level-people's democracy.

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