Why does India Refuse to Accept Foreign Aid?

This summer, Kerala experienced its deadliest floods in about 90 years, costing hundreds of lives. The government estimates the total worth of damages to hit Rs 21,000 crore, which in turn has affected key sectors, namely construction and tourism. Despite this, India stands by its reckless policy of not accepting relief aid from foreign countries, choosing instead to rely solely on domestic resources.

The policy was first implemented in December 2004 by then Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, soon after the tsunami. The PM claimed, “We [India] feel that we can cope with the situation on our own and we will take their [foreign] help if needed.” His immortal words have since steered New Delhi away from any form of aid that wasn't internal. It was understood that India’s growing economy meant that it could handle such disasters itself. Accepting aid, therefore, would appear counterproductive to an image of self-sufficiency that the nation tries so hard to upkeep.

The policy doesn’t prevent India from donating to other countries, however. When the tsunami hit in 2004, the Central Government offered financial assistance to Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Thailand. Furthermore, in 2005, India provided $5 million to the American Red Cross in response to Hurricane Katrina.

The whole thing sounds like a puerile case of ego.

What the Indian government needs to understand is that accepting funds during times of havoc does not make you any less weak, or pathetic. If anything, it fosters heightened interdependence and solidarity, which is merely an undercurrent of globalisation.

Take the US, for example. It’s a power bloc that happens to be the biggest benefactor of international aid, but they don’t shy away from accepting help in the wake of national disasters.

According to one government source, another reason not to consent to foreign aid is that it poses diplomatic complexities. “Accepting from any one government opens the floodgates for others as well, and it would be diplomatically difficult to refuse from some while accepting from others,” the source said.

Indeed, there are nations India may feel reluctant to engage in this kind of trade with. Even so, just because diplomacy might seem futile in some relationships doesn't mean we should discount the potential for forging stronger ties elsewhere.

The Kerala floods incited the Maldives to offer Rs 35 lakh, which the Centre rejected. Let’s say India did take up their offer; it would’ve been a tactfully gracious gesture, especially since our rapport with the tropical nation has practically nosedived in recent months.

There is a small loophole, though. If we look at the fine print of the BJP’s policy, it states that “if the national government of another country voluntarily offers assistance as a goodwill gesture in solidarity with the disaster victims, the Central Government may accept the offer”.

Emphasis on “may”.

Forgetting any political implication for a moment, rejecting foreign aid raises essential questions about humanity. Are we seriously letting a longstanding policy, which was pretty redundant to begin with, get in the way of Kerala’s plea for help? It’s something to consider.