The fiasco that is the Commonwealth Games
“India has an amazing ability to muddle up things. The goons in Bihar are running the show when the country is aspiring to be a world leader,” author Charles Allen once said in an interview to Hindustan Times. Like Kipling, whose biography he has written, Allen was born in India, but was forced to leave as a child, yet India holds a deep place in his heart. His criticism is only born out of love for Paradise (as people in those times called India).
The current fiasco with the Commonwealth Games in Delhi brings this statement to mind. This is the chance for India to show off its prowess to the world and yet, it is ‘muddling it up’ on a grand scale.
Remember the opening of the Olympics in Beijing in 2008? It was nothing short of spectacular. The visual spectacle, imbibed with Chinese culture, which set the sky ablaze with music and dance, was spellbinding and the ceremony passed off with perfection. It was, in fact, the mother of all Olympics opening ceremonies. The newly built stadiums were impressive, and the event basically opened the eyes of the world to what China can and will achieve. More people watched the opening ceremony in China than that in Athens. It told the world that China, not America, stands at the centre of the universe.
The Commonwealth Games (CWG), which India is hosting for the first time, also have the potential to be a source of national pride, and to show the world what India is made of.
This is after all a country that invented the zero (read: Brahmagupta); built the Golden Temple in Amritsar and the Taj Mahal Palace in Agra; built various UNESCO World Heritage sites such as the Ajanta and Ellora caves; rather usefully invented ‘good’ sex for goodness sake (read: Karma Sutra); taught the world how to live life (read: the Bhagavad Gita and the Vedas); invented yoga, now a practice revered throughout the western world; this a country, that, apart from founding Hindusim, even founded Buddhism, now revered throughout Asia and the western world. Here we have a country who’s amazingly complex but perfect tiffin and dhobi wallah systems never fail to amaze tourists, foreign filmmakers and journalists alike.
So, when David Cameron held a joint press conference with Manmohan Singh in Delhi and a rather cheeky Indian TV journalist posed the question to Manmohan Singh: “Are you aware of the corruption, incompetence and delays with the construction of the Commonwealth Games stadiums?” and he turned ashen-faced, and replied saying he had met the Cabinet secretary the day before and was satisfied the necessary preparations were in place, and everything would be ready on time, it was a far from convincing answer.
He should have said that he was aware of the fiasco, allegations of corruption and misuse of funds, and was launching an immediate investigation, and those found guilty, would be sacked. Indian TV channels are showing us cables hanging out all over the place outside the CWG stadiums, pits and pot holes on paths outside newly-built stadiums, monsoon leaks, debris piled up everywhere, tiles falling off the edge of swimming pools, waterlogging, seepage and even a roof collapsing. Parts of a shooting range at Gugaon were practially washed away after it rained and the roof of the table tennis hall collapsed days after it was pronounced ready. The fact the stadiums are being built by thin labourers without proper uniforms and hard hats, who are probably poorly paid, is one part of the problem. They probably hardly care if the stadium they build looks good or even stands up, given their working conditions. But the fact the project management has been so appalling is another thing.
Now we are being told that taxpayer’s money has been misused on equipment and items, and that the organising committee has been charged well over the odds for various items such as treadmills and umbrellas, money that could have been paid to the poor labourers building the venues for starters. The corruption watchdog, the Central Vigilance Commission, has pointed out poor quality of construction material and grant of work to ineligible agencies as well as other large-scale procedural violations, including corruption, in several projects. Is this a reflection of wider problems in the construction industry in India, generally? I think so. The entire industry needs to be overhauled and very tightly regulated, as it is not the first time the words ‘corruption’ and ‘construction’ have gone hand in hand.
But for now, with just two months to go, that is not the focus. The immediate focus should be on preventing the CWG in India itself from becoming the organisational disaster of the century, the mother of all CWG disasters, and instead becoming the world-class event, source of celebration and national pride, that it should be. The Indian Government, citizens, the media, and other Commonwealth countries, now need to apply pressure on those in charge of this event.