Pride and prejudices over foreign aid

Earlier this month, British tabloid The Daily Express ran a headline lambasting British aid to India. The article pointed to the £98 million that Britain was set to spend on India between 2018 and 2020, which it insisted was roughly equivalent to the spend on the Chandrayaan-2 space probe. “The Indians don’t want or need our money. In effect, we are sponsoring an Indian Moon launch,” David Davies, a Conservative backbench MP told the paper, which also criticised India’s own approach to aid. “Despite millions suffering from disease and limited access to proper health care and education, India is a net donor of foreign aid, providing more assistance than it receives”, in a “desperate” attempt to make itself a “serious player on the world stage”, the article concluded.
To many, the article’s theme will have had a familiar ring to it: ‘India-aid bashing’ has been a repeat theme for Britain’s tabloid media for a number of years now. “Well that’s gratitude! We give India £1 billion in aid, THEY snub the U.K. and give France a £13 billion jet contract,” screamed The Daily Mail in 2012, when news first broke that India had chosen Dassault’s Rafale over the four-nation consortium Eurofighter Typhoon.
Britain’s aid programme has come under increasing attack from the right in recent years, which has sought to contrast it with the austerity regime in the U.K. Among the focal points of criticism has been the passing of legislation in 2015, under former Prime Minister David Cameron, that committed Britain to spending 0.7% of its Gross National Income on aid every year. Britain’s Department for International Development “ended traditional aid to India in 2015. The U.K. now provides the country with world-leading expertise and private investment which boost prosperity, create jobs and open up markets, while generating a return for the U.K. at the same time”, a spokesperson for the Department said in a statement in response to The Daily Express piece, also clarifying that “not a penny” of British aid money had gone toward India’s space programme.
The debate around aid from Britain has been equally sensitive in India — even before the latest debate around foreign offers to assist the Kerala relief effort. Pranab Mukherjee told the Rajya Sabha in 2012 that India didn’t need Britain’s aid, while at the time T he Daily Telegraph cited a leaked memo from former Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao suggesting that British development aid generated “negative publicity of Indian poverty”. The latest assault on aid by Britain’s right is only likely to intensify sensitivity on the issue.
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