Kerala Floods: Charting New Grounds for Harmony?
Photo Credit: Reuters
By Tridivesh Singh Maini

Kerala Floods: Charting New Grounds for Harmony?

Aug. 31, 2018  |     |  0 comments


The close links between the South Indian state of Kerala (also referred to in India as “God’s own country”) and the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) region are well known. A large percentage of the total of 9 million Indian migrants in the GCC countries actually hail from Kerala, and a significant percentage of the total remittances (in 2017 estimated at around USD 69 Billion) which India receives come from Malayalis working in the GCC countries, especially the UAE. The UAE and the government of Kerala have also begun to work closely, with the latter emerging as a key tourist destination in recent years for citizens of GCC countries.

 

During the recent floods in Kerala, which caused immense devastation (casualties are reported at over 237, while floods have also resulted in displacement of 1.4 million people), a number of countries offered assistance, but two GCC countries, the UAE and Qatar, were the fastest to react.

 

In a tweet, Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai and the Vice President of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), highlighted the contribution of immigrants from Kerala to UAE’s economic growth and prosperity and also stated that that UAE has a special duty towards Kerala: “The people of Kerala have always been and are still part of our success story in the UAE. We have a special responsibility to help and support those affected, especially during this holy and blessed days (Eid Ul Adha).” Significantly, the UAE also offered aid to the tune of a whopping INR 7 billion. Abu Dhabi Crown Prince and Deputy Supreme Commander Sheikh Mohammad Bin Syed Al Nahyan communicated this to Indian PM Narendra Modi. Modi had thanked the UAE for its offer of assistance. Qatar was also willing to offer relief assistance, to the tune of USD 5 million for the victims of the Kerala floods.

 

India initially declined the offer, given that since the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004 (a tsunami which caused damage to Tamil Nadu and Andaman and Nicobar Islands), New Delhi has refused external aid for an external calamity, since it wants to send the clear message that it can handle calamities. Then PM Dr Manmohan Singh stated that India can deal with the situation, and if it needed assistance, it would take it. Kerala’s Finance Minister, Dr. Thomas Isaac, however categorically stated that the National Disaster Management Plan Chapter 9 on international cooperation permits aid during a time of calamity such as the Kerala floods.

 

After facing scathing criticism from certain quarters (especially from the Kerala state government) for declining external financial aid, it was reported that the Central Government was willing to consider foreign aid for the state, provided the existing rules and regulations are adhered to. While New Delhi clarified that relief and rehabilitation efforts would be carried out through “domestic efforts,” it did say that it welcomed contributions from the Indian diaspora and overseas foundations to the Indian Prime Minister’s relief fund, as well as to the Kerala’s Chief Minister’s fund. KJ Alphons, a Minister in the Central Government who hails from Kerala, however stated that he would urge the government to be open to foreign aid (and also dubbed New Delhi’s rejection of foreign aid as a continuation of the previous government’s policy) given the intense damage caused by the recent floods.



The role played by the Pakistani diaspora too has sent a very positive message and clearly reiterates the point that the Indian and Pakistani diaspora communities can play a positive role in altering the narrative of conflict which currently dominates.



Apart from the UAE government, certain prominent Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) and groups have also risen to the occasion in providing assistance. Prominent businessmen such as Dr. K. P. Hussain, the chairman of the Fathima Healthcare Group, and groups like Al Ansari Exchange have donated generously to the Chief Minister’s Relief Fund and for medical relief aid. Amongst the expatriate organizations which have been at the forefront are the Kerala Muslim Cultural Centre (KMCC) and the Kerala Social Centre (KSC), whose relief provided includes financial as well as materials aid like blankets.

 

Like the Indian diaspora, there is also a sizeable Pakistani diaspora community in the GCC countries, especially in the UAE. Pakistani and Indian immigrants get along very well in the GCC countries and work together. While the Pakistan Dubai Association sent clothes as relief to Kerala, Pakistani workers in Dubai donated one day’s wages. Such goodwill gestures by Pakistanis in the GCC countries should be welcomed and are a clear indicator of the goodwill between both communities overseas. Here it would be pertinent to point out that a number of Pakistanis including PM Imran Khan have offered assistance. Khan, who has made some affirmative statements in the context of India-Pakistan ties, on August 23, 2018 tweeted that Pakistan was willing to offer any humanitarian assistance to the state. The former cricketer Shahid Afridi as well as the head of the Pakistan Cricket League (PCL) have also expressed their sympathies, with the head of the PCL also offering assistance.

 

Diaspora communities are often used for promoting their home countries interests, and India and Pakistan are no exceptions. India has been reaching out proactively to its diaspora, especially in the aftermath of the economic reforms of 1991. The aim of reaching out to the diaspora has not been restricted to economic goals, but also to seek assistance in pushing ahead India’s political interests. Successive Pakistani governments have also reached out pro-actively to the Pakistani diaspora. Many Pakistani expats have held important positions, former PM Shaukat Aziz being one such example. During his first few speeches, newly-elected PM Imran Khan has repeatedly reached out to the diaspora, and sought their assistance in helping Pakistan deal with its economic woes. More such efforts should be made to involve the diaspora communities in peace making in South Asia, and advice from overseas intellectuals and professionals should be sought for improving ties between both countries. While some scholars from both India and Pakistan have been working earnestly along with NGOs in Europe and the US to improve the political and economic climate in South Asia, there is a need for the governments to involve the South Asian diasporas in a more organized and structured manner.

 

In conclusion, the assistance provided by Kerala’s expatriates (both individuals and groups) as well as the willingness of the GCC countries to offer aid underscores two points. First, the commitment of expatriates to their state during a time of crisis is commendable. Second, the role which they have played in cementing ties with the GCC countries, which are today significant from an economic and strategic viewpoint, is clearly evident. Credit should also be given to the Kerala government for its efficient handling of the floods as well as coordination with diaspora groups.

 

The role played by the Pakistani diaspora too has sent a very positive message and clearly reiterates the point that the Indian and Pakistani diaspora communities can play a positive role in altering the narrative of conflict which currently dominates. Both governments should seek to effectively utilize their respective diasporas to improve ties. There is always an opportunity in an adversity, and the unfortunate floods of Kerala have clearly reiterated that during times of crisis, South Asians are ready to bury their differences.



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