NRI

Google fb32x32 twitter linkedin feed-icon-32x32

The Commonwealth Con

The Commonwealth Con

September 21, 2010

Why the Commonwealth Games represent yet another missed opportunity for India.

I must admit I was irked when I read news reports about Mani Shankar Aiyar dissing the Commonwealth Games (CWG). He said something to the effect that he wished the Games would fail, since this would prevent India from bidding on future wasteful sports events like the Olympics. Now I'm a big fan of Aiyar, he's a friend and so forth, but this just sounded plain mean-spirited. Who would want to wish failure upon the country so publicly?

We may agree or disagree on whether India, a poor country, should have bid on the CWG, but surely we should all pull together and support them since they're a fait accompli? Now, a month later, and about a month from the Games' inauguration, I've reluctantly had to revise my view and have come to share his cynicism.

Anyone who follows Indian news even in a cursory way has read or seen the countless stories about more than the usual amount of corruption involved in building the infrastructure, the poor quality of the construction, and the utter state of chaos that New Delhi has been reduced to in the lead up. I won't trot those out here. Now, this is to some extent par for the course in India, but the CWG fiasco represents yet another missed opportunity for India.

When the previous NDA government bid for the Games, it was meant to be the capstone of its "India Shining" re-branding of the country. When the NDA fell from power, to a large extent because it was voted out of office by the still impoverished folks in the far-from-shining countryside, the successor UPA government, elected on a platform to put the "aam admi" or common man at the centre of things, made a political calculus to stick to the previous government's commitment to put on the CWG.

For a while, most of us, save the eternally cynical, were hopeful. The Games would give India a chance to showcase the progress we'd made since opening up the economy in 1991 and represent, not an endpoint, but a mile marker along the route to modern economic development. As an exemplar, China hosted the spectacularly successful Olympic Games in Beijing in 2008. If they could pull that off, surely we could manage the much smaller and admittedly less glamourous CWG?

Alas, the saga of ineptitude, incompetence, and idiocy that has unfolded has been epic, even by Indian standards. Far from showcasing our accomplishments, the preparation, or lack thereof, for the Games has put on view all of the bad stuff that made us or our parents' generation leave India in the first place: a sense of complacency and entitlement amongst the privileged elite, engrained and endemic corruption, and a blase disregard for what all of this will do for India's self-image and self-respect, to say nothing of its image abroad.

I'm sure that, somehow, Delhi will manage to pull this out, without a major catastrophe. But what will the legacy be? Mouldering and second-rate stadia, a once-green city reduced to a concrete jungle, and a mountain of debt that the country can ill afford are the main ones that come to mind. Meanwhile, a third of the population will continue to live in extreme poverty, not sure where their next meal is going to come from, while back in the corridors of power in Lutyens' Delhi a few well-connected contractors and politicos will count their gains.

Mr. Aiyar, you were right.


23 Comments

  • agoioidh
    By
    agoioidh
    26.09.10 02:57 AM
    NRIs are corrupt too! Everybody is chasing money and letting India go to hell!
    Well - it is getting there!

    We can sit here and criticize. Or do what one of your masters said - ask not what your country can do for you...but what you can do for your country.

    All slaves, including NRIs, must take their fair share of responsibility.

    Brits left us with a master driven and materialistic and enslaved mindset.
    We need to get back to our roots...We need a true Indian leader. And yes cannot be another sonia or rahul -they are also busy squandering the nation by $1Billion +, each year.
  • Dip
    By
    Dip
    25.09.10 04:52 AM
    After the Delhi fiasco on CWG, I hesitate to identify myself as an Indian in any multinational assembly. Thanks to the regulators of the republic of India, all of you have done a great job to bury our nation's image into deep graveyard.
  • Barnaby Haszard Morris
    By
    Barnaby Haszard Morris
    24.09.10 02:42 PM
    It seems like people are still much more interested in the negative perspective than the positive!

    I throw my arms up in defeat.

    Really, though, at this point I just hope there's no loss of life as a direct result of the general disorganisation of the Games.
  • Vivek Dehejia
    By
    Vivek Dehejia
    23.09.10 07:44 PM
    Purba and Nalini:

    Thank you for your comments. I'm just hoping there aren't further disasters before this event finishes ... or whether it will even start. A total disaster for India.
  • Nalini Hebbar
    By
    Nalini Hebbar
    23.09.10 11:52 AM
    IST...Indian Standard Time...looks like the games ended before it even started!
  • Purba
    By
    Purba
    23.09.10 09:47 AM
    The CWG disaster is just a confirmation of what we had been fearing all along. And it could have been such a wonderful opportunity to showcase India as a global powerhouse and Delhi's status as a world city.
    But unfortunately it has now become a shining example of everything that's wrong about our country!
    And the pathetic excuses the CWG bosses are coming up with!!! They deserve to be sent to the Naxals for target practice.
  • Vivek Dehejia
    By
    Vivek Dehejia
    23.09.10 08:41 AM
    Zozo:

    There is certainly some truth to this. As sports minister, he could have done more to get the ball rolling on the Games. Outside of the Cabinet, he's been quick to criticize it, and feels free to do so since he carries no ministerial brief. Perhaps the honourable thing to have done when he was sports minister was either to cancel the event for the reasons he now gives for being against it or resigned his portfolio.
  • zozo
    By
    zozo
    23.09.10 08:31 AM
    Do you think Aiyar is also to blame for this in some sense? He hasn't exactly behaved like a team player, right?
  • Vivek Dehejia
    By
    Vivek Dehejia
    22.09.10 08:24 AM
    I wonder whether Mr. Bhanot will cite "cultural differences" if he is asked to live in the Athletes' Village?! Some of the descriptions were pretty rank, even by Indian standards ....
  • A Singh
    By
    A Singh
    22.09.10 04:07 AM
    Hey, before everyone jumps to conclusions Lalit Bhanot has made a statement and there appears to be a rational explanation.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-south-asia-11385214

    Complaints could be due to "cultural differences".

    So there you have it....
  • Vivek Dehejia
    By
    Vivek Dehejia
    22.09.10 04:01 AM
    Thank you all for your comments. The CWG fiasco is turning out to be even more disastrous than we could have foreseen. What is most angering is the complacency of government officials and the passing of the buck that's already started.
  • Pooja Srivatsa
    By
    Pooja Srivatsa
    22.09.10 02:35 AM
    I wonder how many contractors and "officials" have secured the future of their children and grandchildren with the money skimmed off the CWG funds! I agree that hosting the CWG is a waste of money in a country where 40 million children are starving everyday.
    Now the Games face the threat of cancellation, we have embarassed ourselves in front of the world and millions of rupees are unaccounted for.
    This has been an absolute disaster.
    Unless India takes some steps to demand accountability from officials, stem corruption and put national pride over individual gain, such things will keep happening. *smoke blowing from my ears*
  • Barnaby Haszard Morris
    By
    Barnaby Haszard Morris
    21.09.10 11:56 PM
    I have written a piece that will be on the site tomorrow, looking at the positive side of things. I still stand by it, though these developments in the last 36 hours definitely ratchet the tension level all the way up to 11.
  • Kevin
    By
    Kevin
    21.09.10 10:59 PM
    We shouldn't be too surprised at this. As they say, as you sow so shall you reap. Trying to get results without putting in the effort required is a sure shot way to failure.

    Maybe this will wake up the authorities to do something about corruption.
  • Vivek Dehejia
    By
    Vivek Dehejia
    21.09.10 10:45 PM
    A. Singh and others:

    When I wrote this piece over the weekend I never imagined the disaster that unfolded today.

    At this point I'm not sure whether it would be better for the Games to limp forward, somehow, or just to be cancelled. Either way, a PR disaster for India.
  • A Singh
    By
    A Singh
    21.09.10 10:33 PM
    OMG I am just watching the BBC news at 6 and the CWG fiasco has made the main headlines. Two British athletes have already pulled out
  • stickyfeet
    By
    stickyfeet
    21.09.10 09:27 PM
    I have mixed feelings about the Delhi CWG. I understand the concern that facilities are not/will no be ready. However, these sporting events have become such bloated affairs from a cost and size perspective, requiring complete makeovers of host cities. Accommodations for athletes and officials are expected to be Five star; witness this statement:

    Scottish team officials joined the chorus of condemnation surrounding accommodation for athletes in Delhi on Tuesday, decrying the Commonwealth Games village as "unsafe and unfit for human habitation."

    Really? I bet I could find at least half a billion people who would be happy to live there. How about some perspective and empathy for the vast mass underclass of your host country?
  • Vivek Dehejia
    By
    Vivek Dehejia
    21.09.10 08:31 PM
    Baljit:

    I'm afraid there was tragic news with the footbridge collapsing and the news about the filthy games village.

    And the response of the officials is shocking - no acceptance of responsibility and saying that things will be OK!

    The Delhi CM even said on TV that the footbridge was only for the public, not officials or athletes - as if that makes it OK?!
  • Baljit
    By
    Baljit
    21.09.10 06:36 PM
    I agree and hope as you said that everything will be alright on the night, but thinking about health & safety attitudes in India makes me think some tragic news may follow.
  • Vivek Dehejia
    By
    Vivek Dehejia
    21.09.10 06:03 PM
    A. Singh:

    You're right - if the Scots are complaining, it may be time to head for the hills.

    A tragic synchronicity - as this piece went live, I saw a news story of a footbridge collapsing near the JN stadium, injuring many.

    Perhaps I was too sanguine in my last paragraph that India can actually pull this off.
  • A Singh
    By
    A Singh
    21.09.10 05:58 PM
  • Vivek Dehejia
    By
    Vivek Dehejia
    21.09.10 05:38 PM
    BB:

    Very eloquently, and elegantly, put. Something I didn't put in the original post, that you allude to, is the absurdity of spending a fortune hosting a sporting event as minor as the CWGs. There are great parts of our colonial legacy, such as our parliamentary democracy and wonderful writers in English, but the CWGs we can live without!
  • BB
    By
    BB
    21.09.10 05:28 PM
    Indeed, there are two levels of the scam, and we invested in both. The first is the illusion that sports events and stadiums generate money. They pretty much always are net losers. But if well planned then at least you can think of it as an infrastructure subsidy, which we sorely need. But there comes the second scam. After all that, little gets built; money disappears; and our reputation is sullied. And all this for Commonwealth Games? Who even watches them? bb

Leave a comment