Yes, aid has many strings attached


There are several reasons for rejecting relief: one, that India truly has the resources to deal with disasters; second, that “aid” is a euphemism for “let us dump our useless products on these fools;” third, there are security issues; and fourth, the malafide intent of religious conversion.

While it is true that India suffers from a Rodney Dangerfield syndrome (“We don’t get no respect.”), the country does need to assert its economic coming-of-age. Too many people in the West still have a “caste-curry-cows” image of India, but it is, simultaneously, a major and fast-growing power. This really ain’t your father’s Oldsmobile.

India has been quietly making this point about self-sufficiency for some time. In 2004 India told aid-donor nations that they should divert assistance to countries in greater need than India. India has itself become a non-trivial donor of aid to poor countries.

The word “aid” is misleading, too, because it gives an image of charity. But 90 percent of the aid received by India has been in the form of repayable loans; furthermore, there are usually conditions that most such aid must be spent in acquiring products from the donor country.

An example is the donation of used clothing to certain African countries, which had a catastrophic effect on their own textile industries. Similarly, “relief” often results in the dumping of useless items like canned beef and pork, electric blankets, and dehydrated French fries on bemused villagers.

India, in fact, does have the resources to meet emergencies; indeed, the problem is neither money (Individuals contributed record amounts.) nor goods. (I have seen clothing and supplies being discarded as there was so much of it.) The problem is in getting the supplies to the individuals concerned, and in reducing pilferage on the way. This no external relief organization can ensure.

There are security issues, too. When the Americans proposed to send relief to Sri Lanka, they were suggesting entirely too many paratroopers and other soldiers would show up; and this makes countries like India nervous, for large numbers of foreign soldiers on one’s soil, even at the best of times, is not a good idea.

Finally, there are the ghoulish disaster-chasing religious converters. I have heard first-hand reports after the Christmas tsunami about desperate people being converted for a measly Rs. 1,000. An interesting case is that of Bible-thumpers who wanted to convert Muslim orphans in Aceh, Indonesia; when told no, they decided to pack up and move to, naturally, India, which is fair game.

It was proper, then, for India to decline “disaster relief” from dubious NGOs that are front organizations for vested interests with ill intent.

Rajeev Srinivasan wrote this opinion from Kollam, Kerala.


No, it was an absurd show of false pride


Remember Chernobyl?

In 1986, a nuclear accident at Ukraine’s Chernobyl Nuclear Plant caused radioactive material to spew across huge swaths of the former U.S.S.R. and East Europe. The then-Soviet regime initially rebuffed offers for assistance from Western countries, with explanations of “a storm in a teacup well under control.” After all, ability to manage a crisis without outside help was a matter of national pride.

With tens of thousands of its denizens perishing and damaged crops foretelling a famine, Soviet Union had to eat its pride and request foreign help; no dose of patriotism or national pride can stand up to the fallout from radioactive emission.

There exist disturbing parallels between the Chernobyl incident and India’s steadfast refusal of international assistance for tsunami victims.

India has undoubtedly undergone an economic transformation in terms of overall output and GDP; however, the benefits have been confined to the urban areas. Progress in the rural areas is more of a dream than reality; many areas (including the districts worst affected by the tsunami) lack basic infrastructure, making it difficult for aid to reach the affected areas.

Somebody needs to explain to all the politicians cooing about India’s self-sufficiency that the question is not wherewithal per se, but rather providing villagers with such wherewithal.

Notwithstanding grandstanding about “Cyberabad” and its myriad wonders, could the former Telugu Desam government save the lives of famine victims in Andhra Pradesh? Indeed, the roots of the TDP’s defeat lie in their issuing statements about everything being perfect from the comfort of an air-conditioned office in Hyderabad despite deaths galore.

How much aid was made available to victims affected by the Gujarat earthquake in January 2001? Rotting bodies, carcasses, and a parade of politicians falling all over themselves for photo-opportunities was the extent of the “aid” that went into the countryside.

The richest nations, the United States included, routinely accept help in the face of natural disasters. The United States has long accepted Canadian help while France accepted aid in 2004 to assist victims of a heat wave. With millions still in abject poverty, how can India claim to have the economic means for self-healing?

India has degenerated to a level where only the politically influential can get people to shed tears over their tragedies. With no Laloo Prasad Yadav to represent them, the Nicobarese, badly affected by the tsunami, have nobody to draw attention to their plight. And in the sea of apathy will they wallow, for the unforgivable mistake of lacking political clout.

Our national pride is intact, thanks to faceless, voiceless Nicobarese tribals, for nobody cries for them. Can such a victory be anything but Pyrrhic?

Toronto-based S. Gopikrishna writes on issues pertinent to India and Indians.