God’s own country, Kerala, became the victim of the nature’s wrath and is experiencing the worst floods of the century. It was all over the news, but not for its backwaters, not even for the age-old rightwing-leftwing rivalry, but for the most devastating floods and a humanitarian disaster of epic proportions. The floods left 445 people dead and 15 missing. Within a fortnight, while at least 280,679 people were evacuated, mainly from Chengannur, Pandanad, Aranmula, Aluva, Chalakudy, Kuttanad, and Pandalam. In the hilly regions like Coorg, floods have caused landslides which have exacerbated the destruction of homes, bridges, homes and road networks. 1/6th of the population of the state has been directly affected, and the central government has declared it as a calamity of the level 3 which means the catastrophe of the severe nature. The flow of water in the deluge has led the opening for the 35 of the 42 dams in the state for the first time.
First of all, it deserves attention to explore why the God’s own country has become a symbol of the God’s wrath. For all the farrago of superstitious explanations for the floods coming from various quarters, it need be clear that the eminent ecologist Gadgil has clearly stated the recent floods as a manmade disaster. The 2011 report submitted by Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel, headed by ecologist Madhav Gadgil had apparently warned the ill-thought development practices were ruining the ecological sustainability of the Western Ghats hill chain, one of the world’s most biodiverse area. The report had advised many states including Kerala and Karnataka to follow sensible and sustainable development policies by restricting activities such as dams, construction, and quarrying near protected forests in hilly areas. The report was rejected by the Ministry as well as by both states. The worst damage had taken place in areas where the Gadgil committee had recommended protection. Indeed, this is a great warning not just for India for the entire sub-continent. South Asia,has lately been on a development-high economic growth rate spree to improve its infrastructure and cater to its fast-increasing population and its demand for jobs, housing, recreation, and food. With the CPEC, this drove has further strengthened with a strong sense of strategic competition and rivalry. However, the states involved need to exercise caution in this rat-race for development.
Coming back to Kerala, this author would like to address the controversial issue of foreign aid for Kerala floods. Many Indian media platforms are running stories of India rejecting foreign assistance from UAE and projecting it as an example of inhumanity. These media stories have strong undertones of turning the issue into a political vendetta against the existing government. The implied meanings suggest that the aid was rejected because the central government is being partial against the state government as the state is run by a non-BJP regime. Further, one can also sense a subtle intent to give a communal color to the issue as the state of Kerala has a substantial Muslim population working in gulf countries, following a Wahabi school of Islam with strong cultural and economic linkages with Arab nations.
However, it appears that the issue is being blown out of proportion. The media and intellectual quarters are not applying rational minds, and their op-eds are loaded with political baggage. First and foremost, I would like to mention that there was no formal offer of aid through official channels by UAE. It was merely a verbal gesture. Secondly, the policy of not accepting foreign aid was started by former PM Manmohan Singh when US and Japan offered humanitarian assistance during 2013 Uttarakhand floods. Before that in 2004 also, India did not accept the US aid provided for Tsunami rehabilitation. The reason being India is economically self-sufficient, and it has a robust disaster management infrastructure. India is currently the sixth largest economy and 2nd largest in terms of population. It has the ability to generate surplus plus finds for natural and man-made disasters like Kerala floods. There are paramilitary cadres and organizations like CRPF, Army and National Disaster Response Force with high-quality expertise in the field.
Further, as stated by Minister of State for External Affairs, Gen. VK Singh in the parliament that over the past many years India has become a nation that has given more foreign aid to other countries than it received in the last three years. He also explicitly mentioned that as the country’s international stature and economic heft grows, India should avoid taking aid from foreign countries. Hence accepting foreign assistance does not rhyme well with India’s growing global stature and economic heft.
Another question that comes to mind while accepting foreign aid is its informal and unwritten obligations. If a country takes assistance from a foreign country, in many ways, it may lose its strategic autonomy. Hence, when India is in the position to finance its relief efforts, it would not be sane to accept foreign aid. Further, the state and center have done a commendable job in disaster management so far in Kerala. The state has provided shelter to one million people in 3000 shelters, and the center has provided the assistance of INR 600 cr. All Indian states have provided financial and other kinds of assistance to Kerala. Many civil servants, politicians and ordinary civilians have donated their one month’s salary to Kerala.
In an interview to the Economic Times, the state CM Vijayan expressed gratitude to center for cooperating and providing relief assistance-“I need to make it clear in no uncertain terms that the government of India was forthcoming and responded positively. PM Narendra Modi and Home Minister Rajnath Singh visited the flood-hit areas and have been understanding the situation fully”.
India has sincerely expressed her gratitude to Pakistan’s new government for offering relief assistance but as per the policy, has not accepted it. However, this need not be the reason to deduce that it is a jolt to peace-making efforts between the two countries. In fact, in official and civilian circles Pakistan’s offer has been appreciated. In India, people have strong hopes with Imran Khan’s NayaPakistan. Imran Khan is already a hero in India because of his tree-plantation initiative in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. His earlier interactions with India during his cricket career and his study of Indian states like Bihar prove in no uncertain terms that he has a better understanding of India and its concerns. I believe that his vast public following, sincerity and out-of-the-box thinking makes a perfect combination in achieving a breakthrough in Indo-Pakistan relations provided he get enough support from the deep state and Pak army. On India’s side, Prime Minister Modi has expressed his commitment to good India-Pakistan ties. He has clearly stated that India is looking for constructive and meaningful engagement with Pakistan.
Hence, there is no reason for biased and the hate-mongering Cassandras to portray India’s refusal to accept Pakistan help as an indication of stiffening relations between the two countries and make doomsday predictions. However, it needs to be mentioned that substantial progress and dialogue between India and Pakistan can take place in an overall atmosphere of peace and goodwill. If the issue of terrorism is addressed, then the sky is the limit for cooperation between India and Pakistan.