That’s what they say, and they say it often enough for John Lewis to have made it a theme for their Christmas ads. I think there’s some truth in it too. Now obviously this doesn’t apply so much when it’s socks, jocks and chocs or when you’ve just ordered something off someone’s Amazon wish list, but when I’ve bought someone something that I know will be a hit but is completely unexpected I really look forward to watching it being unwrapped and that little ‘Wow, where did you find this?’ moment. And maybe countries get it too, which could be the reason for this.
Pranab Mukherjee and other Indian ministers tried to terminate Britain’s aid to their booming country last year – but relented after the British begged them to keep taking the money, The Sunday Telegraph can reveal.
According to a leaked memo, the foreign minister, Nirumpama Rao, proposed “not to avail [of] any further DFID [British] assistance with effect from 1st April 2011,” because of the “negative publicity of Indian poverty promoted by DFID”.
But officials at DFID, Britain’s Department for International Development, told the Indians that cancelling the programme would cause “grave political embarrassment” to Britain, according to sources in Delhi.
DFID has sent more than £1 billion of UK taxpayers’ money to India in the last five years and is planning to spend a further £600 million on Indian aid by 2015.
Okay, it’s not quite the same as someone’s mum opening a box of After Eights for the 22nd straight year and having to feign delighted surprise – again – to spare feelings, but it kind of seems that way. I mean, India doesn’t need the money. It doesn’t. Its GDP (price parity) is nearly twice that of Britain’s, it has nuclear weapons and power generation, and India’s researching new nuclear power stations using the thorium fuel cycle in order to exploit its own large natural reserves of the stuff. Now it’s true that Britain is also a nuclear power, even though it leases the missiles from the Yanks, and of course has a vastly smaller population so that GDP per capita (nominal or PPP) ranks it a hell of a lot higher, but I hadn’t quite finished. India also has a US$1.5 billion – yes, billion – space program, which is something Britain only has to the extent that it participates in the ESA.
I repeat: India does not need the money. Yes, there are still many people there living in abject poverty, but the point is that despite its poor people India is not a poor country anymore. It’s big enough, old enough and, most importantly, wealthy enough to begin taking care of its own problems. In fact it seems India even feels able to assist less well off countries itself.
In April 2008, in New Delhi, India launched its own Africa manifesto – the India-Africa Forum – promising, like China, credit lines and duty-free access to Africa. Specifically, India would double its credit lines to Africa from US$2.15 billion in 2003/2004 to US$5.4 billion in 2008/2009.
‘Dead Aid’ (Chapter Eight) – Dambisa Moyo
Of course it’s clearly intended that India benefit from it as much as African nations, but is it any wonder that the Indian Finance Minister described UK aid as ‘peanuts’ when his own nation has offered about ten times that much credit to developing nations? It is kind of like giving your mum a box of After Eights when she’s given your kids a 50 quid HMV voucher each.
And while certainly pretty bloody poor by any standards India’s poor may not be quite as poor as we might imagine. Dambisa Moyo in the next chapter of Dead Aid (incidentally, worth a read if you haven’t already).
By some estimates as much as $US200 billion worth of untapped investment potential is privately held in gold in India. In 2005 India introduced a policy which allowed Indians to exchange these physical gold holdings (often held in jewellery and coins) into ‘paper’ gold in denominations as low as US$2. Estimates suggest that this policy unlocked as much as US$200 billion worth of untapped investment potential privately held. The initiative promised to bring the poorest 700 million villagers, who purchase about two thirds of India’s gold, into the more formalized banking system.
Read that last sentence again – the poorest 700 million people in a 1,000 million strong nation buy two thirds of the gold. Knocked me for six when I read that (which is more than the Indian cricket team have been doing here lately). Ms Moyo adds that this gold policy added more money to India’s economy than all the foreign aid of the previous year.
So why is the Britain’s DFID still offering, no, not offering, insisting that India takes the £280m or so of its own taxpayers’ money (and/or adding to the debt bill those taxpayers or their children will eventually have to pay) when it’s a small fraction of the amount of credit India itself extends to African nations? Embarrassment was mentioned. Could it be like that thing you sometimes see with old ladies taking afternoon tea together? You know: ‘I’ll just go and settle u…’ ‘No, Gladys, I’ll take care of it.’ ‘Oh, but you always…’ ‘No, put your purse away, dear. I won’t hear of it.’ ‘But y…’ ‘ You wouldn’t want to embarrass me now, would you?’ ‘No, Gladys.’
I’d like to think it was, really I would. I’d like to think of my native land as still being so entertainingly barmy that that would be a significant factor in a decision to carry on racking up the spending and indebtedness at a rate even faster than that of a government lead by one of the most profligate shitwits in living memory in preference to the embarrassment of being seen as unable to. Still utterly and unforgivably mad but at least you could get a laugh from it, albeit a bitter one.
I think there’s probably a bit more to it than that though. It might be part of it, and the way the Cobbleition ruled out cuts to foreign aid early on and at the same time as promising not to touch the NHS too does suggest that the politicians want to maintain that appearance of munificence, even if it’s a veneer that’s eroding fast and approaching angstrom thickness. But I suspect that in addition there’s this bloody national guilt that the whole UK is supposed to feel over the Raj. Yes, maybe some shitty things were done and maybe the whole White Man’s Burden attitude was a pretty racist approach to a culture whose recorded history began more than a thousand years before some Italian builders suggested that what Britons really needed was a wall running from Carlisle to Newcastle and a bloody good wash. Okay, I can understand that, but for Christ’s sakes the Raj ended in 1947. It’s not ancient history, but it is still history. 65 years – how long’s enough, guys? And don’t you think that insisting that India needs Britain’s help not only when it’s able to do things that Britain can’t but when it’s saying that actually, no it doesn’t need help anymore, thanks all the same, is a similar kind of paternalism to White Man’s Burden? Would insisting that what’s becoming a middle income nation can’t manage without British help make the DFID’s attitude right at home during the Raj?
Or am I reading far too much into things? Is there an even simpler explanation? Could it be that the DFID fears that if supposedly poor countries begin rejecting British aid because they feel they don’t need it anymore then it will begin to struggle to justify its continued existence? I mean, look at that £280 million given to India. Cui bono?
Well, it’s not India, is it?