There have been a fresh controversy after the UAE’s ambassador to India reportedly denied the Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s claims that the gulf kingdom had offered a financial assistance of Rs 700 crore towards flood victims.
Supporters of the right-wing Hindutva brigade were quick to pounce on media houses, who carried the news item attributing the claim to Vijayan. They argued that the UAE had never offered any help and the news was floated to portray the Indian government led by Narendra Modi in a bad light.
One reason why the news of UAE’s reported Rs 700 crore worth package gained traction was because the Kerala finance minister, Isaac Thomas, had said that the central government rejected the offer of help from foreign countries citing a section on ‘International Cooperation’ in the National Disaster Management Plan published in 2016 that alleged barred the affected states from accepting foreign aids.
But three high-profile officials of that time including former foreign secretary Nirapama Menon Rao, Shiv Shankar Menon and Sanjay Baru have contradicted that claims. Taking to Twitter Nirupama Rao wrote, “True that as country we can give rather than take assistance,but 80% of Indians in the Gulf are Malayalis. Offer of flood relief assistance from region must be treated with sensitivity. Saying no is simple, but for Kerala-in-crisis, it’s not so simple..”
Baru wrote, “You are correct. We said no to relief but accepted support for rehab. Also one must distinguish between normal aid and help in disaster. Later more humanitarian. Also Gulf Kerala relatioship is unique. Lots of goodwill for Malayalis in Gulf.”
Meanwhile, a journalist, Ullekh NP, has taken to Facebook to highlight how there may not be any truth in the allegations that the UAE’s offer for Rs 700 crore help for Kerala.
Here’s what he wrote on Facebook;
HH Sheikh Mohammed (His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum) tweeted eight times from his handle @HHShkMohd expressing his love for Kerala and his offer to help the state that he said contributed greatly to building UAE.
August 18: Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted the same day:
@narendramodi: “A big thanks to @hhshkmohd for his gracious offer to support people of Kerala during this difficult time. His concern reflects the special ties between governments and people of India and UAE.”
August 21: Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s office tweeted multiple times about the offer of Rs 700 crore equivalent of flood aid from the UAE.
@CMOKerala: “CM Pinarayi Vijayan informed that the United Arab Emirates will provide Kerala an assistance of ₹700 Crore. Kerala has a special relationship with UAE, which is a home away from home for Malayalees. We express our gratitude to UAE for their support. #KeralaFloodRelief“
He also tagged the PMO in one of his next tweets on the same day, saying the Prime Minister was also informed of the offer. He also tagged a UAE top official in that tweet.
@CMOKerala: “This was communicated to the Hon’ble Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi (@PMOIndia) by Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nahyan (@MohamedBinZayed), Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of UAE’s Armed Forces.”
The Kerala chief minister also said that the UAE official disclosed the news of the offer to a prominent Malayali businessman (whom everybody knows is also very close to the Central government)
@CMOKerala: “The assistance of UAE was first informed to Malayali businessman and philanthropist Yusuff Ali M.A.”
The same evening @CMOKerala tweeted at least four times in Arabic thanking HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum for his great gesture and compassion for Malayalees.
Over the next three days, officials of the Centre, especially MEA and beat journalists debated tirelessly why India shouldn’t accept UAE’s aid.
Why was there a debate in the first place at the behest of serving officials if there was no preliminary offer of an aid? Why didn’t the PMO or MEA state earlier that they were not aware of anything that the CMO had said about the aid proposal?
Now, it appears that, when it was clear that the UAE would go ahead with the aid proposal despite a large-scale campaign against the move by powers at the Centre, a diplomatic sabotage was launched to get the UAE to silently withdraw.
Once that was done, after all the eyewash of a ‘to accept or not to accept’ debate, the latest story is that the UAE never made a specific offer.
Why would the UAE want to antagonise a powerful Centre over an aid to Kerala? Why does the Centre want to sabotage aid to Kerala? Why? Would Yusuf Ali deny he spoke to the PMO about the UAE offer on the same day he broke the news to the Kerala CM? Or will he, a mere businessman, ever dare talk? These are tough questions for which the answers are probably tougher to get.
Now, how can you ask Malayalees not to “talk politics” when you are converting even a natural tragedy into an opera of politics?