Political fishing in Kerala waters
“We feel that we can cope with the situation on our own and we will take their help if needed.” These famous words were spoken by none other than former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during the aftermath of the 2004 Tsunami that had hit India and devastated the coast of Tamil Nadu as well as Andaman and Nicobar Islands, killing more than 12,000 people and displacing 6 lakh.
Dr Manmohan Singh had said these words while refusing foreign disaster aid and had formulated the disaster aid policy in 2004. In fact, after the Tsunami of 2004, Manmohan Singh had not only refused aid for India but Instead, handed over cheques for $25 million to Sri Lanka, $1 million to Indonesia and $500,000 to Thailand for relief and rehabilitation.
After the Caribbean country of Haiti was hit with a disastrous earthquake in 2010, India had also donated $5 million towards the country’s reconstruction.
In 2013 when floods ravaged Uttarakhand, the then US secretary of state John Kerry had announced a $150,000 aid to India. At that time, the Congress-led central government had turned down Kerry’s offer and also aid from other foreign countries. A Telegraph report from 2013 said, “India has made it clear to both the US and Japan, which offered $200,000 towards Uttarakhand relief, that it will not accept the aid and that any funding must be given to NGOs of the foreign governments’ choice”.
Post the Uttarakhand floods in 2013, the then external affairs ministry spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin had said, “As a general policy in case of rescue and relief operations, we have followed the practice that we have adequate ability to respond to emergency requirements.”
In 2004, a policy was set of refusing to accept foreign aid for disasters as not only a diplomatic tool but also to enforce the self-reliance of India.
Following that policy, when Kerala is being ravaged by floods in 2018 and the UAE government offered Rs 700 crores in disaster aid, India reportedly politely declined the generous offer. Reports have quoted ‘sources’ saying that the rule of not accepting foreign aid doesn’t apply to individuals and they can still contribute through NGOs. This was also the position in 2013.
However, facts are pesky little things and ruin a beautifully crafted narrative. As soon as the news surfaced that India may not accept UAE’s disaster aid, many along with elements from the Congress started spreading misinformation.
Shama Mohamed, who is a National Media Panelist of the Congress party attempted to shame the Modi government. She juxtaposed the lie that the centre has only given the state Rs 600 crores, since CM Vijayan himself admitted that this was perhaps only an interim fund and more would be released later, with the fact that India is “finding reasons” to refuse the grant offered by UAE. She perhaps failed to realize that it was the Congress-led government that had set the norms for accepting disaster aid from foreign countries.
Maharashtra Pradesh Congress Mahila Committee member tweeted that “Modi must be dying of shame as he himself has promised only Rs. 600 crores of aid to Kerala”, insinuating that perhaps that is the reason by the Prime Minister has not accepted the aid from UAE.
One Aditya Menon who calls himself a journalist too chimed in with the same narrative. Perhaps it was too time-consuming to research a little as that would have told Aditya that grant request is supposed to come from the Indian government itself and hence, India may be contemplating refusing the aid money, in accordance with a well thought out precedence set by the UPA government in 2004.
Many also asserted that the Prime Minister is being “petty” because the BJP doesn’t rule Kerala. The example they used to substantiate their allegation was the when the now PM was the chief minister of Gujarat, and the state was struck with an earthquake, foreign aid was readily accepted. However, the fact that was missed in the blame game was that India had accepted nominal bilateral aid after the Bihar floods, Bengal floods in 2002, Gujarat earthquake in 2001, and the Latur temblor in 1993 but they were all prior to the norms set in the year 2004 by the UPA government.
While the country stands in solidarity with the state of Kerala, the divisive narrative after the flood and the misinformation campaign aimed at creating a rift at the time of disaster has been a shameful display by many.