My Article: Times of India – 2010 Commonwealth Games

By Rakesh Ahuja, Times of India, 22 September 2010

Let that be a Dandi moment for recapturing national pride.

All available evidence confirms that New Delhi is not ready to hold the Commonwealth Games (CwG). No one can salvage the preparation time wasted since 2003. A bold decision is required. It is not too late. There is nothing sacrosanct about a former colonial master’s arbitrary diktat that the (Empire) Games be held every four years. India should postpone them to 2011.

The decision would mark the government’s recognition of citizens’ protests against venal politicians and bumbling babudom. It would be of as much symbolic importance as Mahatma Gandhi’s Dandi march against the British salt tax. The shambolic preparations for the Games have all the makings of a disaster. The consequences could stain India’s name and economic achievements for some time.

Financial shenanigans and blatant lies stand exposed. The most expensive Games in their history have morphed into a honey pot for looting by pillagers of all hues, Indian and foreign.

Those who live in Delhi know the hollowness of claims that it is becoming a world-class city thanks to unprecedented infrastructural development for the Games. Already, shoddy construction using sub-standard material and unskilled labour is falling apart. Organizing Committee (OC) Chairman Kalmadi argues that it is just as well infrastructural deficiencies have been exposed in time to effect repairs. But surely the “world class” facilities built at astronomical cost by a poor nation should have been able to cope with the monsoons at the very least. Incredibly, he makes a virtue of shortcomings.

Russian minister Grigory Potemkin would have been proud of Delhi as a Potemkin village – façades built to impress Catherine the Great – in the making. Its use-by date is the end of the CwG. Delhi will then sink back into potholed footpaths, waterlogged roads, medieval public sewerage facilities, vandalized and un-enforced road signage, and withering foliage. Beggars banished – the only leaf taken from the Chinese Olympics – will return in droves to the new, more comfortable traffic islands. Slums will reappear.

The buck passing is blatant. Mr. Kalmadi accepts responsibility for a mere tenth of the overblown Rs 11494-cr budget. He continues to chant the mantra of “best Games ever”. That is the stuff of Alice in Wonderland: Stadia ready on paper; structural safety certification suspect or outstanding ; venue test runs, fire safety drills to come; vital result scoring equipment untested; tangled ticket distribution; equipment for award ceremonies still being ordered and no training for conducting them; Games Village accommodation unfurnished.

And yet the netas plea the Games must be held because national pride is involved. They are missing the point.

The last refuge of scoundrels is the appeal to patriotism. They know that if the Games take place without major disaster they will not be held to account. If not, 21 agencies can be blamed, as well as the rain gods (who should instead be thanked for promoting a bountiful harvest). Ironically, the true believers in national pride are falling into bed with the cohort of scamsters who have brought the country’s credibility to its knees.

Where is the national pride in:

• child labour laying footpaths?

• unskilled labour trafficked from BIMARU states, working in conditions reminiscent of Soviet/Chinese gulags, rampant violation of labour laws and sub-human shelters?

• the Games evincing no specific India-related theme (clichéd shera apart)? What do the sails dominating the Nehru Stadium represent? Contrast that with Beijing’s Bird’s Nest Olympic stadium, an unmistakable Chinese cultural landmark.

• a Delhi-centric Games without regional involvement? At least 30% of tickets for the Opening Ceremony have been reserved for VIPs and VVIPs. Where is Bharat in national pride?

• the format of the Opening Ceremony still not finalized? The signature tune just unveiled, the ‘star’ 70-cr floating aerostat’s performance is uncertain and the centre stage is still being built. The Chinese were practicing the Olympics opening ceremony two years ahead.

• nothing done to forestall the cyclical outbreak of dengue? It will peak in October. The athletes’ Village will be highly vulnerable.

• outsourcing crucial aspects of the Games to foreigners at the expense of local talent ? Perhaps to keep crony kickbacks outside the purview of Indian taxmen?

• India Inc and MNCs shying from sponsorships; PSUs rethinking commitments?

• the failure to stem bad public manners – spitting, littering and urinating? Beijing’s Spiritual Civilization Steering Committee successfully instilled civic sense in the city’s for the 2008 Olympics.

This is the state of affairs as of now. Imagine where the much vaunted national pride would be if:

once again, India wins only a handful of medals? Doping disqualifications abound. Potential home advantage is absent because self-serving sports administrators rarely nurtured India’s sporting talent and infrastructure. In contrast, the Chinese withdrew from international competitions for more than a decade to develop homegrown sporting prowess, then modestly tested its mettle from 1988 Seoul Olympics onwards.

• hemorrhaging of star athletes from the Games continues, mindful of dubious venue conditions?,?

• a “world-class” venue structure collapses?

• laggard security arrangements allow another Munich, and inadequate quality control of catering forces Embassies to import food for their athletes?

• empty grandstands flash on TV worldwide? So far, just 20,000 of the overseas allocation of 1.7 lakh tickets have been sold . And Delhiites display no visible interest in the mega event.

The ‘worst ever’ Games are in the offing. Matching Australia or South Africa is a pipe dream. Given the organizational disaster, a vortex of mishaps and glitches is inevitable. They will receive worldwide coverage. The objective of showcasing an emerging Asian power on the world stage is set to self-destruct.

Of late, surreal optimism about hosting the “best ever” Games has given way to doing “our best”. At last, there is implicit acknowledgement that an ignominious fortnight is on the cards.

It is time to cut losses. The lal-bati adorned egos of the elite should not be confused with national pride. Or allowed to compound the consequences of inefficiency and greed which now taint CwG 2010 irrevocably. A mature democracy acknowledges its mistakes.

Games in 2011 would provide a breather to produce the ‘best ever’ given what has been learnt and invested during the current panic.

The bottom line is that a systemic, nationwide malaise has been exposed. It provides a catalyst for declaring independence from incompetence, corruption and the arrogance embedded in DNA of the ruling class. Postponing the Games will give unambiguous notice to the tainted to Quit India. It would mark a non-violent Dandi moment for the aam admi in India’s 154th year of forging its identity on the global stage. It would be a fitting homage to Gandhi on October 2. And in the spirit of his values, Delhi’s citizens could be forgiven for hoisting the national flag and writing to their elected representatives to declare: We Will Not Take It Any More.

The writer was Australia’s Deputy High Commissioner to India in the ’90. He is Managing Associate, Axessindia Consultancy Group.

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