Political storm brews after India nixes foreign flood aid

Volunteers serve food to flood affected people at a relief camp set up inside a school in Kochi, in the southern Indian state of Kerala, Thursday, Aug. 23, 2018. A political battle is brewing in flood-ravaged south India, with the ruling party in Kerala state protesting the central government's refusal to accept more than $100 million in foreign relief. (AP Photo/Aijaz Rahi)
A girl who has left her flood affected home rests on her baggage at a relief camp set up inside a school in Kochi, in the southern Indian state of Kerala, Thursday, Aug. 23, 2018. A political battle is brewing in flood-ravaged south India, with the ruling party in Kerala state protesting the central government's refusal to accept more than $100 million in foreign relief. (AP Photo/Aijaz Rahi)
Flood affected people receive food at a relief camp set up inside a school in Kochi, in the southern state of Kerala, India, Thursday, Aug. 23, 2018. A political battle is brewing in flood-ravaged south India, with the ruling party in Kerala state protesting the central government's refusal to accept more than $100 million in foreign relief. (AP Photo/Aijaz Rahi)
Flood affected victims stand in a queue for food at a relief camp set up inside a school in Kochi, in the southern Indian state of Kerala, Thursday, Aug. 23, 2018. A political battle is brewing in flood-ravaged south India, with the ruling party in Kerala state protesting the central government's refusal to accept more than $100 million in foreign relief. (AP Photo/Aijaz Rahi)

NEW DELHI — A political battle is brewing in flood-ravaged south India, with the ruling party in Kerala state protesting the central government's refusal to accept $100 million in relief offered by foreign governments.

"It is only natural for nations to help each other," said Kerala's top elected official, Pinyari Vijayan, as residents waded into the immense cleanup effort after floods killed more than 200 people and drove more than 800,000 into relief shelters.

The state finance minister said the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi must either accept a $100 million aid offer from the United Arab Emirates, or compensate Kerala by that amount.

Trying to shed its longtime image as a poverty-wracked nation, India has refused to accept aid from foreign governments since a 2004 tsunami, when New Delhi told potential government donors that India would contact them if it needed financial aid.

India is "is committed to meeting the requirements for relief and rehabilitation through domestic efforts," foreign ministry spokesman Raveesh Kumar said in a statement Wednesday night.

"The government of India deeply appreciates offers from several countries, including from foreign governments, to assist in relief and rehabilitation efforts after the tragic floods in Kerala," he continued.

India has said individuals and foundations are welcome to send donations.

The torrential rains which began Aug. 8 in Kerala slowed early this week and floodwaters have been receding. But vast swaths of the tropical state, known for its idyllic villages and beautiful beaches, remain coated with mud, and many people have no clean drinking water or electricity.

The Kerala state government, run by the Communist Party of India (Marxist), expressed disappointment after Modi offered the state 6 billion rupees, roughly $85 million, or about one-fourth of the 22 billion rupees it requested.

Isaac said the state government had made no requests for foreign assistance, but the UAE offered 7 billion rupees, about $100 million.

"It is below our dignity to accept foreign aid," he said in a tweet, mimicking and ridiculing the central government.

Qatar has offered India $5 million aid, and Indian media reports say the Maldives and Thailand have also said they could provide financial support.

The UAE has a large population of expatriate Indian workers, many of them from Kerala.

While individuals and foundations in the UAE have pledged millions of dollars in aid, its central government has not acknowledged making any direct donation offers. Emirati officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday during the Eid al-Adha holiday.

___

Associated Press writer Jon Gambrell in Dubai contributed to this report.

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