Saturday, September 25, 2010
Who gains from the Games?
If the people and the country have not benefited from the Commonwealth Games, then who are the beneficiaries? We don’t have to look far for an answer to this question.
(What's in it for her? A labourer's child at a CWG venue.)
Delhi is bedecked with huge banners and festoons in garish colours, creating a faux festive atmosphere to mark the Commonwealth Games which begin on October 3. Foreign sportspersons and delegates arriving in India’s capital city to participate in the Games can be forgiven for thinking that the residents of Delhi are celebrating a much-anticipated event which the organisers, in spite of the scandalous manner in which the preparations have been handled, bringing shame to India and all Indians, strangely insist will be ‘better’ than the Olympic Games at Beijing and the Commonwealth Games at Melbourne. Little would they know that the residents of Delhi, as also the vast majority of this country’s population, are seething with rage and do not share the enthusiasm of those who have let India down wilfully, smugly confident that they shall never be held accountable for their sins of omission and commission.
Nor will the foreign visitors get to see the ungainly sights of Delhi. All along the road from the Games Village, built on the flood banks of Yamuna violating all environmental norms and with an eye to the ‘premium’ that can be charged from prospective buyers of these apartments after the event is over, to the various stadia, huge boards have been put up, beyond which lie ramshackle ‘colonies’ that are in reality sprawling urban slums. Ironically, even if the visitors can’t see the ‘other’ Delhi, they will get to smell it: There’s no way the organisers can block the stench that rises from the open sewers of these ‘colonies’.
Yet, despite the last-minute sprucing up and the banners and festoons, India’s most pampered city doesn’t quite look pretty — or prettier than what it looked like till a fortnight ago. If anything, it looks tacky. A fellow blogger’s description comes to mind: It’s like lipstick on a pig. Apart from politicians, bureaucrats and contractors who had their snouts in the trough for the past seven years and have only now been sent scurrying by a Prime Minister appalled by the battering the nation’s image has received in recent days to try and salvage whatever can be salvaged, at this late hour, of the country’s dignity and honour, nobody is celebrating what was supposed to be India’s coming out party.
The banners and festoons are embossed with the seemingly seductive slogan, “Come out and play”. If the organisers thought this would make CWG 2010 a people’s event, like almost everything else to do with the Games, they have got this wrong too. For the people of Delhi, the sub-text of the message reads: Don’t you dare come out of your homes while the Games are on. Such is the apprehension of harassment on the roads, coupled with antipathy towards an event that has fetched abiding national shame instead of unleashing a tidal wave of national pride, that those who can afford to get out of the city have booked their passage. Sensing windfall profits, even low-cost airlines have trebled the cost of tickets.
Offices have offered their staff the option of working out of home. Vendors and kiosk-owners who make an honest living from a hard day’s work, unlike the organisers of the Games, have been banished. Thousands of migrant labourers who have toiled at the Games venues for the past many years, setting up home in hovels, have been told to pack up and leave, just disappear. For all practical purposes, the city will wear a deserted look during the Games.
Which brings us to the question: Whose Common- wealth Games is it anyway? When the NDA Government agreed to bid for the Games in 2003, it was obviously guided by those who sold the ‘India Shining’ lemon to the BJP. Confident that the NDA would win the 2004 election and the one after that too, they saw the Games as a celebration of India’s arrival on the global scene as a major economic player. The NDA, as we all know, did not win the 2004 election and lost further ground in 2009. But its legacy could not be disowned by the UPA Government; the Congress saw the Games as an opportunity to make political capital, at home and abroad: It would mark the triumphant return of the party to the centre stage of Indian politics from the margins to which it had been pushed.
So the Games became a party — and partisan — affair with control over its preparations and conduct vested with the Delhi Government, the Union Ministry of Sports, the Union Ministry of Urban Development and the CWG Organising Committee. Between themselves, they carved up the pie. Institutions became irrelevant as individuals emerged as key players. Understandably, there was neither accountability nor responsibility attached to the planning and completion of projects. And nobody bothered about the escalating cost of the Games as taxpayers, and not the Congress, were funding the extravaganza. From the initial budget of Rs 1,899 crore, the total expenditure now stands at anything between Rs 70,000 and Rs 100,000 crore. Such was the brazenness of the Delhi Government that it did not think twice before diverting funds meant for Dalit welfare to building roads that have already begun to cave in. And such is the disdain towards the people that Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit airily dismissed the import of a showpiece overbridge collapsing like a pack of cards by saying it was not meant for foreign athletes but spectators.
If anybody stands to gain from CWG 2010, an orgiastic celebration of everything that is venal and abhorrent about public life in India, it is the organisers and their political patrons. The sorry plight of India’s sportspersons will remain unchanged; they have gained nothing from this event whereas they should have been the focus of attention. In any case, the Common- wealth Games is not considered a major sporting event and is rated lower than the Asian Games. Yes, Delhi will have more flyovers and underpasses, but that’s a small consolation for a city turned upside down and whose people will now have to live with the ravages of the Games for years to come.
The question we should really ask is: What has India gained from the Games? The gross mismanagement, the discomfiting questions raised by auditors, the shocking disregard for financial integrity and the embarrassment of overshooting deadlines not by days and weeks but by months have caused enormous damage to India’s image abroad. More important, it has shaken the confidence of Indians at home — they are no longer too sure that their country can take on the world; for them, “Come out and play” is not a challenge but a taunt.
When CWG 2010 begins with the promised gala opening ceremony (provided it doesn’t rain and the organisers don’t make a hash of it) with dancers in sequined dresses gyrating to AR Rahman’s music (never mind the silly lyrics which, like everything else about this colossus scam, do not make any sense) and a spectacular fireworks display, millions of Indians will be left wondering whether what Sports Minister MS Gill calls a “big fat Punjabi wedding” is justified in a country where 37 per cent of the people live below the poverty line and children go to sleep hungry. If the people and the country have not benefited from the Games, then who are the beneficiaries? We don’t have to look far for an answer to this question.
[This appeared as my Sunday column Coffee Break in The Pioneer.]