India Uncut

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Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Misguided bravado

The Indian government has turned down foreign aid, saying that it has "adequate resources", and the UN has said, glumly, that it can't go where it is not wanted. This is a curious turn of events. There are two possible reasons for the Indian government's behaviour.

One, it believes that it has the situation covered, is on top of the relief work required, and that this work will be most efficient if handled centrally. There is some logic to this: other organisations, also feeling that foreign aid had to be directed in a planned manner, had called recently for the UN to take charge of all relief efforts. The Indian government clearly feels that it is best placed to do that job in India.

Two, the government is behaving with misguided patriotism, and adopting an attitude of "oh, we're self-sufficient, we don't need anybody's help". A similar attitude was in evidence a couple of years back when Bill Gates visited India to help in the struggle against AIDS, and the then-health minister, Shatrughan Sinha, denied that India had a problem with AIDS at all.

Of the two, I suspect that the second reason is the real cause for India's refusal of foreign aid, and the first one is the rationalisation of it. Still, for now, we must give the government the benefit of doubt. But its relief work has been far from adequate in the past, and the inadequacy of government infrastructure is indicated by the regular famines that take place despite a net excess of foodgrains. Its delivery systems are flawed, and at a time of such a crisis, with a possible epidemic looming, India should have gladly taken all the help it could get.

Update (December 30): The Indian government clarifies its stand. Pranab Mukherjee says that India is not turning down those who want to give foreign aid, merely "telling them to wait for some time. Right now, India has the necessary funds. Only after that is disbursed will we be willing to accept all and any aid that comes our way."

Sounds fair to me. Perhaps I was a bit harsh to rush to judgement.
amit varma, 4:56 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage

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