IN THE backdrop of the political spat in India over the UAE’s purported offer of Rs 700 crore in aid for Kerala’s flood relief and rehabilitation efforts, Prime Minister Narendra Modi Sunday reiterated that the “entire nation” was with the state, and that “125 crore Indians stand by them, shoulder to shoulder”.
Addressing the nation in his Mann Ki Baat radio programme, Modi said: “From Kutch to Kamrup, from Kashmir to Kanyakumari, everyone is endeavouring to contribute in some way or the other so that wherever a disaster strikes, be it Kerala or any other part of India, human life returns to normalcy. Irrespective of age group or area of work, people are contributing.”
The Prime Minister did not refer to the UAE offer but Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said Sunday that the issue was not about the amount, but whether the Centre was ready to accept it or not. “If we are willing to accept the aid, they are ready to give. We also have an understanding about the amount. Otherwise, the Union Government should make clear that UAE has not promised Rs 700 crore,” Vijayan said.
According to the latest figures, the Chief Minister’s Relief Fund in Kerala has received Rs 591.91 crore after 302 people were killed in heavy rainfall and floods in the state since August 8.
Last week, Vijayan said that Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, has offered Rs 700 crore in aid from the UAE when he spoke to Prime Minister Narendra Modi over phone. Vijayan said that Keralite businessman M A Yusuff Ali of the Lulu Group had communicated this to him.
However, with the Centre’s disaster aid norms, formulated after the 2004 tsunami, prohibiting any direct financial assistance from foreign nations, Vijayan’s statement triggered a political firestorm, with the Left-ruled state government and even NDA Union Minister K J Alphons, saying the rules should be relaxed. The BJP, meanwhile, questioned Vijayan’s claim.
UAE Ambassador Ahmed Albanna told The Indian Express later that his country had not announced “any specific amount as financial aid”. Vijayan responded on Friday to say that he stood by his statement and that there was “no confusion over the aid”.
On Sunday, speaking to news channels in Thiruvananthapuram, Vijayan said, “We should identify our strength. It is not the strength of our exchequer. Our state is spread over the world. Everyone is employed. Such persons can contribute a month’s salary. It would be difficult to give a month’s salary in a single sweep. But what about giving three-days’ salary in a month and thus give a month’s salary over a period of ten months. If every Keralite, not only those in the state but also elsewhere, think that they should join hands in the endeavour to rebuild own state, we would not face any difficulty for mobilising money.’’
The Kerala government also held a farewell function to honour members of the defence forces, paramilitary and NDRF who participated in the rescue and relief operations.
In his radio broadcast, the Prime Minister said: “Loss of lives cannot be compensated, but I assure the grief-stricken families that in this moment of suffering and misery, 125 crore Indians stand by them, shoulder to shoulder. I earnestly pray for those injured in this natural disaster to get well soon. I firmly believe that the sheer grit and courage of the people of the state will see Kerala rise again.”
The Prime Minister, too, highlighted the rescue efforts undertaken by the defence forces and other central agencies. They “have left no stone unturned as saviours of those trapped in the floods” and that “commitment and control of the situation through rapid decisions of the NDRF have made them a cynosure of every Indian’s eye, worthy of respect and admiration”, he said.
Referring to the festival of Onam, which was marked in Kerala Saturday, Modi said: “We pray for Onam to provide strength to the country, especially Kerala so that it returns to normalcy on a newer journey of development. Once again on behalf of all Indians, I would like to re assure each and everyone in Kerala and other affected places that at this moment of calamity, the entire country stands by them.”