Monday, April 21, 2008

India crawls before China

Torch relay was a pathetic farce
Early last week the popular news portal,, carried a delightful story about how China’s men in blue, who are accompanying the Olympic torch on its journey from Oympia to Beijing, threw Indian journalists out of IOC president Suresh Kalmadi’s office. A connected apocryphal story doing the rounds is that Mr Kalmadi did not so much as express a whimper of protest at this obnoxious behaviour by members of China’s elite People’s Armed Police whose primary job is to ‘control riots’ and ‘maintain domestic stability’. Seventy of these tough cops have been selected to form the ‘Flame Protection Squad’ and travel to 21 countries while their comrades patrol the streets of Lhasa ‘controlling riots’ and ‘maintaining domestic stability’ using means that have understandably met the approval of Gen Pervez Musharraf.
The chairman of the 2012 London Olympics organising committee, Mr Sebastian Coe, has described these men in blue tracksuits with snarling faces as “thugs” while Mr David Douillet, a French Olympic official, has lashed out at them for “not knowing how to handle protests and acting as robots or watchdogs”. Mr Douillet should have known better: There are no protests in China and at the slightest hint of dissent, authorities unleash retribution which is so brutal that not only the dissenters but the rest of the world is also shocked and awed. The men in blue, or whatever, were raring to have a go at protesters in Delhi. Thankfully, by barricading central Delhi, making it a no-entry zone, and deploying 21,000 security personnel, including NSG commandos who are trained to take on hijackers and terrorists, the organisers of Thursday’s tamasha made sure there was no contact between protesters and the ‘Flame Protection Squad’. So severe were the restrictions that the stalls were empty and the torch-bearers ran the 2.3-km distance between Vijay Chowk and India Gate with only a handful of children and officials cheering them.
There were far more people — and many of them Indians — at the protest rallies elsewhere than at the venue of the torch relay. Everybody else steered clear of Lutyens’ Delhi or stayed at home and watched a movie. On Tuesday, the Home Ministry issued a circular, virtually shutting down all offices in the vicinity, including the Prime Minister’s Office, on Thursday. “All windows and doors of all buildings opening towards Rajpath must be closed between 1 pm and 6 pm,” the circular said. Strangely, the directive added, “It must be ensured that no smoke is allowed to emanate from these buildings.” Incinerators installed on the roofs of North Block and South Block, used for destroying old files, had to be shut down. Members of Parliament could not attend the ongoing session. The actual schedule of the relay was kept a top secret even from ‘VIP guests’ who, barring a handful, did not turn up for the event. Mr Kalmadi, of course, looked important and busy, and later held up traffic to Indira Gandhi International Airport — he even managed to delay 20 flights, including many to foreign destinations. Mr Kalmadi is no doubt pleased as Punch and thinks the relay has been a grand success, as do those in Government who cravenly made a mockery of India’s democratic credentials to keep China in good humour.
On Friday, the Chinese Foreign Ministry issued a statement, appreciating the “great efforts” by the Government of India for the smooth torch run. “China expresses its thanks for the warm support and participation of the Indian people and the great efforts by the Indian side,” the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson’s office told PTI. Participation of the Indian people? The state-run Chinese media, hailed the ‘smooth’ relay, and Global Times, a publication of People’s Daily, the mouthpiece of the Communist Party of China, claimed “Tibetan separatist forces were frustrated”. No they weren’t; the Rajghat to Jantar Mantar protest march bears evidence to this fact. The China Daily reported the Olympic torch was welcomed in Delhi with “traditional pomp and pageantry”. Presumably by 21,000 security personnel! Along with its cock-and-bull report, the China Daily carried on its front page a photograph of Aamir Khan running with the torch.
We don’t know whether Aamir Khan, while trotting with the Olympic torch and posing for camerapersons, had a prayer in his heart for Tibet, but he surely had Coca-Cola on his mind. The stretch between Vijay Chowk and India Gate was carved up among corporate sponsors, including Coke and Lenovo, many of whom are also sponsoring the Beijing Olympics. In a BusinessWeek article headlined ‘Tibet could sap Coke’s Olympic zing’, Chi-Chu Tschang writes, “Coke, along with Chinese computer company Lenovo and South Korean electronics giant Samsung, has spent millions of dollars (the companies won’t disclose the exact amounts) to sponsor the relay. Lenovo designed the torch and provided free laptops to Olympic officials.”
But let’s get back to Aamir Khan and Coca-Cola. If you think he ran with the torch to uphold the ancient Grecian spirit of the Olympic Games, as his publicists, apologists of China in the Government of India and assorted friends of China would have us believe, you are absolutely wrong. The Hindustan Times has quoted Mr Venkatesh Kini, vice-president, marketing, Coca-Cola India, as saying, “Aamir Khan is our brand ambassador; people associate our brand with his face.” Similarly, Lenovo fielded Saif Ali Khan. Mr Prasanna Savnoor, general manager, marketing, Lenovo India, has been quoted as saying, “Saif Ali Khan has been associated with Lenovo for a long time. He represents the suave, intelligent, modern Indian man.” So, it wasn’t about promoting the spirit of the games after all; it was about getting paid for promoting Coca-Cola and Lenovo. They and their ilk are truly ‘modern Indian men’ — their lack of scruples is more than made up by their love for lucre.
The Olympic Games have not only been politicised but also commercialised. China will cynically use the Beijing games to make a larger political statement of Chinese power while sponsors will use it to promote consumer products. Where does the ‘Olympic spirit’ fit into such crass display of political might and financial clout?
Coffee Break / The Pioneer / April 20, 2008

1 comment:

Siddhu said...

Kanchan, Why is mainstream media not holding the Communists to their word? Would Nilotpal Basu support a move to settle crores of Hindus in J&K and make muslims a minority in that state?