Call it the need of the hour, a COVID calamity or a policy shift – India is no more averse to accepting gifts, donations and financial aid from abroad. Over 20 countries have stepped forward to help India – from Bhutan that will supply oxygen, to the United States which would share AstraZeneca vaccines next month.
Other countries ready with support are the UK, France, Germany, Russia, Ireland, Belgium, Romania, Luxembourg, Portugal, Sweden, Australia, Singapore, Saudi Arabia, Hong Kong, Thailand, Finland, Switzerland, Norway, Italy and the UAE.
The newly set up PM-CARES fund, in fact, was an indicator of a shift last year. Contributions from abroad, irrespective of nationalities, were accepted for the fund.
People are dying – at some places there is no space for funeral or burial – people are requesting for help from any and every quarter even as the authorities are left counting the astounding number of COVID cases and fatalities: India saw a record single-day rise of nearly 3.80 lakh new infections, pushing the total tally of COVID-19 cases to 1,83,76,524, while active cases crossed the 30-lakh mark on April 29. The death toll has gone well past two lakh with a record 3,645 daily new fatalities.
The people are also looking at the government with frustration and anger as the leadership tries to straighten itself out in an attempt to fire on all cylinders. And as domestic availability of oxygen, drugs and hospital beds comes to a breaking point, the last option of overseas help – of any kind – remains, with little regard to who is India’s friend or enemy or a neutral. China, for example, is ready to send in oxygen-related equipment and life-saving medicines. And as for Pakistan, there is no knowing what or if anything is expected.
India has made self-reliance its key pillar of strength and has trusted its own image of an emerging economy and military power over the last decade and a half. Post-December 2004 tsunami, PM Manmohan Singh had said, “We feel that we can cope with the situation on our own and we will take their help if needed.” India has refused foreign aid post Uttarakhand floods (2013), the Kashmir earthquake (2005), and Kashmir floods (2014).
In 2018 Kerala floods, India had instructed all its missions abroad to decline offers of aid from foreign governments to Kerala, though the UAE had offered ₹700 crore as flood relief. That led to a major row between the Centre and the state government.
Today, that stance appears to have been reversed.