From Kerala with love

Prof. Raj and S.M. Naseem, Kerala, 2004

My article published in the Aman ki Asha page on Sept 23, 2010

From Kerala with love

An over three-decade long friendship between Pakistani and Indian economists leads to an unexpected offer of help for Pakistan’s flood victims

By Beena Sarwar

The visa and travel restrictions between India and Pakistan mean that Indians and Pakistanis who become friends often meet for the first time in a third country.

For economists S.M. Naseem, a Pakistani, and Prabhat Patnaik, an Indian, the third country was Thailand, 1978. They were both members of ILO’s Asian Regional Team for Employment (ARTEPP) in Bangkok, headed by Prof. K. N. Raj. Prof. Raj, who died last year in Kerala, was also known as the author of the Kerala Model, and founded the Centre of Development Studies in Trivandrum after heading the Delhi School of Economics (where his students included Prabhat Patnaik) and as serving as the Vice Chancellor of Delhi University.

The “Kerala Model”, commented Naseem in his obituary, “brought a sea change in development thinking, which was until then obsessed with the goal of achieving high GDP growth rates.  Ideas of equitable growth, basic needs and poverty reduction started moving closer to the centre stage, although the IFI’s infatuation with growth remained undiminished. However, two decades later, our own protagonist of ‘growthmanship’, Dr. Mahbubul Haq relented in his passion and turned towards the ideas implicit in the Kerala model and in collaboration with Raj’s close colleague Amartya Sen, persuaded the UNDP to carry out the work on Human Development Indicators (HDIs) which started playing a larger role than the GDP in the framing of development policies. Another decade down the road, the MDGs, embracing many, if not all, of the features of the Kerala model, with the notable omission of land reforms, became the new charter of development. Raj’s seminal contribution to development policy thus had world-wide reverberations.”

It is important to mention Proj Raj and his work here because his ideas clearly influenced both Naseem and Patnaik, who worked together again in the 1980s. Naseem, a veteran of Pakistan’s 1950s’ student movement, then headed the Development Planning Division of the UN Economic Commission for Asia and Pacific (UNESCAP). Patnaik, a leading Marxist economist who has authored several books, was a consultant.

Talking to Aman ki Asha over the telephone from Kerala, Patnaik quipped that Naseem “must have been the only UN bureaucrat with the copy of Karl Marx’s Das Kapital prominently displayed in his office bookshelf.”

On Aug 19, as the ‘slow tsunami’ in Pakistan unfolded, Naseem sent an SOS email to friends, relatives and colleagues around the world about “the worst disaster witnessed in living memory in South Asia”. Among the recipients was Patnaik, currently Vice-Chairman of Kerala State Planning Commission – although he hails from Orissa, his association with Kerala goes back to the late Prof. Raj.

Patnaik shared the email with his colleagues in the Planning Commission and with the Chief Minister of Kerala (who leads the coalition government of the Left Democratic Front, LDF) whom he has been advising on economic affairs. On September 13, the Kerala cabinet formally decided to make Rs. 5 crores available for Pakistan flood relief.

Kerala’s 87-year old Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan, who also heads the LDF’s leading party the CPI-M, has since written to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh “requesting the central government to allow the Kerala government to send this money (since state governments cannot deal with foreign countries directly),” explained Patnaik in response to a query from Aman ki Asha. “But there should not be any problems from the centre.”

The empathy with which the LDF government views the situation in Pakistan, and its sense of urgency is evident in the speed with which it responded to Patnaik’s email.

“I forwarded Naseem Saheb’s email to the Chief Minister at about 4.30 pm that day. The decision to help Pakistan had been taken by the time I reached home at 6.30,” said Patnaik, adding, “I have never seen any decision taken so fast.”

Patnaik emailed Naseem on Sept 10, informing him of the Kerala government’s decision, which had not yet been made public. Naseem replied with a copy to a few people, including myself. That is how I learnt of this initiative.

My reply, copying Prabhat Patnaik, resulted in my contacting him for more details. I later emailed Naseem Chacha as I’ve always called him (our families go back generations) to update him. He was “humbled and flattered” to learn that his email had been used for the Cabinet decision.

“Prabhat could well have trashed my message,” he said, “especially since he was travelling abroad when he received it. It says such a lot about his sense of responsibility and for his empathy with his friends and the flood-affected people of Pakistan. Five crore Indian rupees is about a million dollars — an amount equivalent to or larger than many small countries that have contributed to Pakistan flood relief.”

He hoped that this, “along with the 25 million dollar donation from India and the large amount of donations from NGOs and individuals in India, will help pass the discourse on India-Pakistan relationship from hawks to doves on both sides.”

That is a wish shared by millions of people on both sides of the border, and around the world.

A Southasian ‘juggad’

Responding to the many requests of Indians asking how they can contribute for flood relief in Pakistan, the respected Nepali monthly magazine Himal Southasian has set up a bank account in Kathmandu that would enable such contributions from India.

Himal Southasian has set up an Indus Flood Relief Fund with Standard Chartered Bank –

Account title: Indus Flood Relief – Himal Southasian/SCB Nepal
Bank: Standard Chartered Bank Nepal Ltd.
Branches Accepting Deposit: Any Branches of SCB Nepal network
Credit card payments may be made to the accounts below at any of the branches of Standard Chartered Bank in Nepal:
Account number for Rupees (from India and Nepal): 01-1859293-02
Account number for USD (from elsewhere): 01-1859293-51
Please refer to the Indus Flood Relief page at for details.

The recipient organisation is The Institute for Social Movements-Pakistan (ISM PAK) in Hyderabad (Sindh), working with the Orangi Pilot Project (OPP) on emergency response and support. ISM PAK urgently needs funds for rations, medicine, shelters, drinking water, infant diet support, livestock fodder and vaccination, hygiene kits, makeshift toilets and schooling camps.

SOS on Pakistan floods

Extracts from S.M. Naseem’s email of August 19 that contributed to the Kerala government’s offer of aid to Pakistan

“The urgent need is relief”

Dear Friends, Compatriots (Past and Present) and Well-wishers of Pakistan’s Flood-Affected People,
.I am sending this SOS not on my behalf, but on behalf of millions of Pakistanis — 20 million, according to some estimates — who are stranded in the flood waters that have been walloping the length and breadth of Pakistan for three weeks and who are suffering from the worst disaster witnessed in living memory in South Asia.

After initially dismissing it as just a bad monsoon (just as a quack would diagnose a heart attack as a muscular pain), the experts have now announced it as a catastrophe whose magnitude exceeds the combined damage caused by three major recent natural disasters — the Asian tsunami (2004), South Asian earthquake (2005) and the Haitian earthquake (2010). 
…In Pakistan an estimated 20 million people or more than 10% of Pakistani population are affected by it and have been rendered homeless, many are still inaccessible to relief efforts of governments and NGOs, national as well as international — an effort greatly wanting in scale, compared to that in the past — and have been left to their own devices to survive for more than two weeks. The delayed reaction — whose causes are complex — and need not detain us here, may have caused millions of past and future deaths and disabilities.
The victims are living a reality show of unparalleled challenges. “Being under water” has a whole different meaning for those who have lost their homes to floods, rather than to mortgage companies.  So far the relief has reached only about 20-30 per cent of the flood victims and their conditions of living are becoming worse every day. It may take at least another month for the waters to recede, while the death toll and disease incidence continues to mount, particularly among children about 3.5 million of whom are estimated to fall victim to infectious diseases such as cholera, diarrhea, typhoid and scabies.
With most of the standing crops of the kharif (summer-fall) season severely damaged by rains and floods, the food availability situation can also be expected to worsen sharply, causing hunger and malnutrition. Given Pakistan’s unenviable record in meeting MDG (Millennium Development Goal) targets, the floods will enhance the vulnerability of poor, especially younger women and children. The floods will wipe out whatever meagre gains in growth and poverty reduction that were made in the current decade. But that is hardly the burning question today. 
The urgent need is relief. Relief may be a palliative, but it is a sedative that is needed before any major clinical or surgical procedure can be undertaken. The patient has to be first saved and given the intravenous drip. 20 million Pakistanis are virtually in a vast CCU, with minimal equipment and supplies. The situation is dire.
Relief supplies, particularly food and medicines, and medical services are therefore urgently needed to avoid a major human catastrophe in Pakistan. While abnormal climatic conditions associated with global warming are the main reason for the large-scale destruction caused by the floods, the calamity has been aggravated by an almost complete neglect in maintaining and upgrading monitoring and responding mechanisms for addressing large-scale natural disasters, which have become more frequent and intense as a result of inadequate environmental protection and ecological (mis)management.   
The Pakistani state, overburdened by security concerns and paralysed by recurring political and economic divisions accumulated over the decades, is unable to meet the challenges. To be fair, even the best of governance structures are often unable to deal satisfactorily with natural disasters like this, as was illustrated in the case of  (hurricane) Katrina.
That is why it is important that Pakistani expatriates as well as friends of Pakistan abroad, especially in the U.S. and South Asia like you (whom I am taking the liberty of addressing this e-mail and urging them) to come forward and contribute liberally to the many organizations — international, national and local — that are active in the field. In doing so, they will not only be showing their solidarity with the people whom they have known with some degree of familiarity and empathy, but will also be contributing to the cause of promoting peace and preventing the growth of poverty, disease and human suffering in a region vital to the peace and progress of the world.

I really hope that my Indian and Bangladeshi friends will take this opportunity to renew their solidarity with people who shared a common political dispensation not too long ago and who would hopefully come closer again in the future. The commendable move of the Government of India in contributing $5 million (later raised to $25 million) for Pakistani flood victims is of great significance, but even more appreciable will be contributions, however small, by individuals and groups from India and will help greatly in accelerating the pace of improving relations.


One Response

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by sexgenderbody, Pakistan Long March. Pakistan Long March said: From Kerala with love « Journeys to democracy […]


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