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Should India Receive Or Reject British Aid? – Analysis

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By Sriya Chakravarti

Introduction

India is a rapidly growing economy, along with Brazil, China and Russia. It has also become the world’s biggest arms importer as it overhauls its obsolete Soviet-era weapons.[i] According to the figures of The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, India imported 9% of total world weapons. [ii] Discomfort, rage, bitterness and ego clashes were visible in the international arena, as India made the decision of obtaining the French Rafale fighter jets over the Eurofighter Typhoons. The Rafale decision sparked a debate about India’s priorities. ‘Defence versus Development’ became the topic of the hour and the image of India and its perception of self have also come to the forefront of the discussion. [iii]

It seems like the British media has an aversion towards peanuts. They suffered from a deadly allergic reaction after certain statements from 2010 were pulled out of context and turned into a controversial debate. In the statement, the contribution of UK aid was compared to ‘peanuts’ in the whole development process of India. At this note, the mask of civility dropped for Britain as the British media launched a tirade against India to choke the aid it receives from the UK.

India - United Kingdom Relations
India - United Kingdom Relations

Due to the economic hardships, there is simmering dissatisfaction in the UK and the media channeled it into anger when the Rafale fighter jets were chosen over the Eurofighter Typhoon. This is because parts of the Typhoon were manufactured in the UK. If the Typhoon jets were selected, they would have given a substantial boost to the UK economy. The uproar in the UK media to stop aid to India is based on:

  • India has a stronger economy and UK is in throes of an economic crisis.
  • India has set a budget aside to give aid to other countries in need.
  • There is ‘ingratitude’ for the aid received.

In light of the above events, the UK aid to India has come under increased scrutiny. The UK aid program in China ended in 2011, and it has been suggested that aid to India also be reduced. [iv] Many question the deeper symbolism of the aid given to India. Listed below are a few reasons for aid from one country to another: [v]

  • Aid given to truly uplift some sections of the society.
  • Aid given to ensure stability of a region.
  • Aid for transactions (Countries give aid in exchange of a tangible outcome. For e.g. votes at the United Nations or route it in the form of goods and services produced by the donor economy.)

Like every story, there are two points of view and then the truth. Listed below are the some views.

Observations

Today, India is being projected as a home to more billionaires than in Britain, Indians owning massive fortunes in Swiss bank accounts and India having a middle class that is bigger than Europe. [vi] Also, the space program of India, affluence of Bollywood stars, cricketers, and tycoons are catching eye of many around the world. Therefore, it is safely concluded with these surface details that India does not need any foreign aid. While all this is true, reality presented is distorted in some sense. The economy is certainly taking off, and the numbers of poverty stricken people are falling but there are still millions who are yet to be pulled out of poverty.

Some scholars state that India needs an apology and not aid from Britain in light of past events. The UK aid is not about helping the needy. It is about “ buying influence, post-colonial arrogance and misplaced condescension.” They suggest that the aid is given to elevate the self-esteem of Britain, conduct covert spy operations, and has a fundamentalist agenda attached to it. [vii]

A Reality Check

The truth of the matter is that we do not need any data from the World Bank to prove the predicament India is in. Unfortunately, a third of the population in India is under poverty and, does not receive three meals a day. PM Singh emphasizes that India is still a poor country and welcomes aid and expertise from friendly countries. Plus the aid is not a permanent in nature. It is only up to 2015. [viii]

Indian initiative to help the least developed countries should not work against it receiving aid. There are even poorer people than Indians in several countries. “Britain would be morally and politically wrong to terminate aid to India…Giving aid not only acknowledges the injustice of colonial exploitation, it also arises from an obligation to redress the gross structural imbalances that continue to mark the world despite recent power shifts between states.” [ix]

It is argued that it is the responsibility for the Indian state to provide a social safety net and equal opportunity for all Indian citizens. Therefore, they should accomplish this goal by doing what is needful. [x] Unfortunately, with the growing economy, there are growing inequalities. The gap between the “haves” and the “have not’s” is increasing at an alarming pace. The Indian Government has made huge progress on tackling poverty by getting 60 million children into school. Still there is still huge need for aid. [xi]

Contribution of Department for International Development (DFID)

The Indian government and UK had mutually agreed in July 2011 to continue the Bilateral Development Cooperation Program in India till 2014-15. It is said that the Indo-UK Bilateral Development Cooperation has strengthened the relationship between the two countries. [xii]

With the help of the British aid, the following results have been achieved. Listed below are the facts and statistics from the DFID: [xiii]

  • DFID has helped 1.2 million Indian children to go to school since 2003.
  • 2.3 million people are out of poverty in rural areas in the last 5 years.
  • 30,000 lives saved through TB treatment since 2005.
  • Due to DFID’s commitment for the past decade, India has been polio free for the last year.

These are impressive results that must not be discounted at any cost. The aid gives the government of India enough armor to focus on other matters that are hanging on its head. Listed below are other DFID goals for 2011 – 2015: [xiv]

  • Help 3 million people gain access to credit, insurance and savings and help them work their way out of poverty.
  • Help over 400,000 mothers deliver babies safely with the help of nurses, midwives or doctors.
  • Reach 3.9 million children with nutrition programs.
  • Provide 5.8 million people access to improved sanitation facilities.
  • Help fight climate change by providing 3.9 million people with low carbon energy (e.g. fuel efficient stoves and solar lanterns).
  • Support over 800,000 children to enroll in secondary school and 1.5 million children to enroll in primary school.
  • Help 16 million more people to understand and claim their rights and entitlements.

In a recent conversation, leaders from the UK and India discussed the media reports and jointly stated: “India and UK share historical ties and have warm and friendly relations.” The bilateral cooperation between India and UK has been and remains mutually beneficial. India has downplayed the face off and said that it appreciates the aid extended by UK for over all development efforts, and that there are definite niche areas that require aid. India will receive an aid of 1.4 billion pounds between now and 2015 from the UK. [xv] It seems that despite the negative connotation the aid carries, it is essential for India as it fully tries to secure itself as a dominant power in the world. [xvi]

Conclusion

India’s growing influence and an independent mindset may have raised a few eyebrows and ruffled a few feathers. However, it will still continue to maintain cordial relations with all. The situation with the UK should not be looked under a power absorbing trip or a patronizing lens. India certainly does not need an aid that patronizes it, nor does it need a big brother that keeps a watch on it. In other words, “it deserves a relationship of equals, not subservience.” [xvii]

If India does not plan to take any more aid in the future, the politicians needs to decide the steps to deploy the funding they allot for certain initiatives appropriately. They must also forecast how they plan to resolve the disparity between the rich and the poor in the future. As of now, there a lot many poor who will willingly accept any aid that is offered to them.

In light of the growing importance of India in the world, countries providing aid to strengthen India should view it as a long-term investment, which will pay huge dividends in the future. Providing aid to the less fortunate communities will also build goodwill and harmonious relations that are essential in a volatile world we live in. The fate of the less fortunate should not be decided in moments of passion. Therefore, tact, diplomacy, power sharing, and adjustments should be the key mantras.

Aid for trade may be the slogan of Britain, but it is illegal and the quid pro quo has been rejected by India. However, it must be noted that the aid has been substantial to the lower strata of the Indian society. The aid may not entitle leverage in national security decisions but must be highly regarded. Analysts suggest that UK transfer the aid to the NGO’s and charities of India, instead of the government directly. They also expect the UK to get over the colonial mindset and act like good Samaritans, who do not bargain for leverage or trade.

One should not give up on a specific ‘cause’ because it is grossly affected by corruption.

Many writers project receiving aid as a hindrance, since the rich get richer by pocketing the funds, and the poor continue to suffer. The pictured painted is true but it is reversible. We just need to find an appropriate way to refine our procedures and redirect the funds efficiently. Plus these funds will not be flowing in forever. They are less than 1% of the UK GDP. [xviii] The cap is only till 2015. What really is then the big hoopla about?

Finally, India is inspired by the sentiment of ‘Athithi devo bhav’ and the ‘golden mean’ of Aristotle. It tries to keep the checks in balances while having high respect for the other. Yes, India took the aid, and what is wrong in it? There are sections of the Indian society that greatly benefit from it. There are no winners or losers here, it makes India no less, and does not taint its shining image as emerging super power.

It is noteworthy of Britain to maintain its philanthropic attitude despite its economic condition, and it is completely their choice. Why should we have to speculate the innate goodness in them? India knows when to remain humble and where to draw the line. And may be what the British media needs is a ‘peanut-butter-jelly sandwich’, so that it gets the energy to balance emotions and bravely face the economic crisis. Unfortunately for them, the aid to India has become a bad case of peanut allergy.

The author can be contacted at [email protected] The views expressed are author’s own.

[i] India to buy 126 Rafale fighter jets in $11B deal with French aviation company Dassault, Washington Post, January 31, 2012
[ii] India upgrades its military with China in mind, NDTV, February 8, 2012
[iii] UK-India face-off: India too ‘rich’ for aid?, NDTV, February 6, 2012
[iv] India: Development aid from the UK & other donors, House of Commons
[v] Does India really need Britain’s aid?, DNA, February 13, 2012
[vi] DAVID CAMERON is under pressure to slash the aid Britain gives India after the country said it no longer wanted the money., TheSun.co. UK, February 7, 2012
[vii] The politics and arrogance of British aid to India, Russia & India Report, February 10, 2012
[viii] What is DFID’s reaction to the Indian Finance Minister’s comments saying UK aid is “peanuts”?, Dfid.gov.uk
[ix] Why India needs aid, The Guardian, February 7, 2012
[x] Send India the power of Britain’s pen, please, not of its purse, FT.Com, February 9, 2012
[xi] Shouldn’t the Indian Government do this themselves?, Dfid.gov.uk
[xii] India –UK discuss aid trade misgivings, India Blooms, February 10, 2012
[xiii] Andrew Mitchell: our aid programme in India, DFID.gov.uk
[xiv] Summary of DFID’s work in India 2011-2015, DFID.gov.uk
[xv] Pranab, UK minister discuss media reports on aid controversy, IBN Live, February 9, 2012
[xvi] Rafale deal: Voices against aid to India rise in UK, IBN Live, February 6, 2012
[xvii] No, my country doesn’t need British aid. It’s patronising, stifling and just enriches a corrupt elite, Daily Mail, February 7, 2012
[xviii] Foreign Aid in India, Youtube, February 23, 2011
[xv] Pranab, UK minister discuss media reports on aid controversy, IBN Live, February 9, 2012
[xvi] Rafale deal: Voices against aid to India rise in UK, IBN Live, February 6, 2012
[xvii] No, my country doesn’t need British aid. It’s patronising, stifling and just enriches a corrupt elite, Daily Mail, February 7, 2012
[xviii] Foreign Aid in India, Youtube, February 23, 2011

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SAAG is the South Asia Analysis Group, a non-profit, non-commercial think tank. The objective of SAAG is to advance strategic analysis and contribute to the expansion of knowledge of Indian and International security and promote public understanding.

One thought on “Should India Receive Or Reject British Aid? – Analysis

  • March 17, 2012 at 8:43 pm
    Permalink

    A relationship of equals between India and Britain? Huh?

    India makes 8 times as much steel as Britain does. India has a 150 Su-30s in its Air Force. Think about it: Britain’s strike fighter: the Typhoon was auditioning for a SUPPORT role in Indian Air Force :)

    India makes rockets that land probes on the moon.

    A relationship of equals between India and one of America’s many proxy poodle countries? I think not.

    Reply

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