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Thanks, but... er, thanks

India’s discomfort with continued British aid is understandable. But it can be a spur for action

india Updated: Feb 15, 2011 23:26 IST

Perhaps the best indicator of how India looks in its new power jacket and with its unsubtle ‘We are a global power’ mascara can be gauged by Britain’s decision to continue its aid programme to India. Remember that this is the same Britain that we use as a bouncing ball each time we splash headlines such as ‘The empire strikes back’ and start playing ‘Jana Gana Mana’ in our collective heads whenever we hear about an Indian taking over a Brit company. But despite British Prime Minister David Cameron’s entourage of industrialists and entrepreneurs descending on our shores a few months ago looking for business opportunities and the island nation’s dipping fortunes on the economic side of things, London has decided to continue its Department for International Development (DfID) aid programme of £280 million (approximately R20.4 billion) a year till 2015.

India remains the biggest recipient of British development aid, having received more than £800 million (approximately R58.2 billion) over the last three years. So with our happy economic machine chugging like a Jaguar engine, do we still need the largesse? Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee had told Parliament not too long ago that India would prefer to ‘voluntarily surrender money’ if Britain decided to cut aid. There was also some rumble in the government in Delhi about national pride and all those furry feelings when it came to accepting British aid money. It’s one thing that Britain stopped aid to China, now officially the world’s second-largest economy, and to Russia last year. But some chaddis are in a twist in India when folks tom-tomming our growing ‘prowess’ realise that Britain has stopped aid to countries that include Moldova, Cambodia, Serbia and Vietnam. This can hardly look good for India in Davos et al.

The reason why we continue to get ‘poverty benefits’ from the Queendom of Britain isn’t because we’re not big players in global economics already. It is because we still contain giant pools of poverty, with healthcare and education still in an abject state of chaos across the country. So until we clear our own mess, India would be playing dog in the manger if we tell a fellow who’s come to help us out a bit to take a Cumbrian hike. But if there’s one roundabout way to spur our government into action about removing poverty in a shiny house, it’s to tell cash-strapped benefactors like Britain soon enough: thanks, but no thanks. And if a little bit of ‘Jai Hind’ follows, so be it.