Last week, British media reported the issue of aid to Indiahad prompted some heated discussion over why an increasingly prosperous country like India should be given aid at a time when the British economy itself is in the throes of another downturn.
The issue of British aid to India has been a topic of conversation before. India Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, for example, has previously characterized U.K aid as being “peanuts”in the context of India’s larger development spending.
The clamor to end aid to India gathered steam after India decided to buy the French fighter jet Rafale instead of the British supported Eurofighter. It might not be an objective that’s set out in print, but aid programs are frequently used as tools to cement preferential trade ties. That even this wasn’t happening in the contemporary U.K.-India dynamic was probably adding insult to injury.
Yet, it wasn’t how British citizens felt, but the Indian response to this controversy that intrigued me the most.
On TV studio debates, a cross section of Indians spewed their anger, saying that we didn’t need their benevolent grants. I’m as patriotic as they come, and certainly don’t think relying on any kind of grant or aid, domestic or international is what India needs. But there’s a fine line between confident pride and delusions of grandeur.
Yes, India doesn’t need British aid or assistance, but that’s not because India’s problems have been eliminated. There’s a certain set of Indians today that scoff at being shown the mirror, and try to paper over the country’s many problems. Of course, India has made immense progress, but as a country poised to secure a better future, frank stock taking is probably what India needs more than feel-good bravado.
You don’t need to look any further than what is a given in the developed world – an issue as routine as rural sanitation and hygiene – to see how much ground India still needs to cover. In a Times of India article earlier in this month, Mihir Shah, a member of India’s Planning Commission, was quoted as saying that around 60 crore (600 million) people defecate in the open. He went on to say that there was a need to change the government’s approach in tackling this shame, and that he hopes to raise spending on government programs for sanitation and drinking water.
In December of last year, the World Bank’s Water and Sanitation Program had found that lack of adequate sanitation resulted in an annual loss of $53.8 billion in 2006, the report’s latest evaluation year.
As a proud Indian, these are painful points to contend with. While India’s economy is growing rapidly and is poised to provide a better life to the masses, India must take stock of the plight of all its citizens. While many Indians are thriving thanks to fast-paced economic development, not all Indians share in such success. If it takes the issue of British aid to make the point, so be it.