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Indian Games: The Slumdogs thrive–the millionaires survive

Indian Games: The Slumdogs thrive–the millionaires survive

They say it is like an Indian wedding and that on the night things will be fine. The bride will be there, the groom will arrive and there will be song and dance as the chaos renders way to beatific pleasure. Except that there could be problems if the guests do not arrive.

And with each passing day the contingents to the Commonwealth Games get thinner as top athletes drop out because of fears, real and perceived in the capital city of New Delhi.

One would like to believe that this is a gigantic conspiracy designed to embarrass India and push her back a bit into Third world status as a comeuppance for her daring to be one of the big players on the global poker table. Any Indian, be he or she at home or an NRI, would love to find comfort in this convenient scenario.

But the cruel fact is that there was enough time to get the blueprint right despite a mean Monsoon and the now soporific news of some epidemic or the other.

The blueprint blew in the wind and now there is profound and abiding embarrassment. It is not so much of a question of setting up anti-corruption inquiry commissions in the aftermath, it is more a question of why a nation that prides itself on being a permanent resident living on the cutting edge of technology allowed itself to get into this mess in the first place.

Even if one concedes the lubricant of corruption which in Indian society actually hastens the completion of a project, Indian corruption being paradoxically the most honest element in a transaction in that you do not get cheated, there is no choice but to accept the indictment. Sloth, indifference, a lack of due diligence and a bureaucratic arrogance combined to place a whole nation on the mat.

At this very point, let us make it clear that this country held the Games three decades ago and made it a big success. It spawned the IPL, regularly has international cricket matches in small towns, secures a million people in religious festivals and half that in political rallies the year round with very little incident and you realise that hosting the Games should have been a walk in the park. The January 26th parade is arguably the finest in the world in terms of pomp and splendour.

So, what went wrong? The media sent out gratuitous warnings weeks in advance and it was proved right because rather than take heed the authorities labelled it all as sensational grandstanding.

The Kalmadi-led organisers were not held accountable at each point of delay and as hours telescoped into days and days into weeks there was no way of getting back on schedule.

Padma Rao of Der Spiegel writes to irate Indians demanding to know what action will be taken against the defaulters: “And don’t worry, the Rottweilers of the Indian media will ensure that they do take action. I am optimistic. At least on that front.”

TV diva Barkha Dutt responds to Rao’s lyrical eloquence about the myriad charms of New Delhi and the unspoken sentiment that it is a white nation conspiracy to club India into the back of the bus.

She says, “That may be so, but the bridge collapse doesn’t fall in any of these categories of prejudice by the white world.” It does not and to seek shelter there is unseemly. The truth is the government shut one eye and accepted the reassurances without actually looking into the situation. Political rivals like Mani Shankar Aiyer enjoyed mocking the efforts and compared odiously the cost of the Games and the cost of building hospitals and schools with that money. The same Mr. Aiyer was all gung-ho in the Gandhi heydays for the Asiad and one would like to know how many hospitals he built in his tenure of power. Whatever, even cheap shots get attention and all these diversions did not help.

Incompetence can be tolerated if it is backed by sincerity. But when that sentiment crashes down by way of shoddy and dangerous construction, when things do not work, when hygiene becomes a joke, the plumbing fails, the roads crumble and the guests, however motley, are knocking on the door, then it is the moment of reckoning.

These crippled Games will most likely go through but in the end, when the hurly burly is done and the battle lost or won, India’s people will ask why their country was sold down the river and only the echoes will answer why.

More is the pity, the culpable always get away. The slumdog stays and the millionaire prospers. The Games: The Slumdog survives and the millionaires thrive. Bikram Vohra. 23 September 2010

Bikram Vohra is Editorial Adviser of Khaleej Times. Write to him at bikram@khaleejtimes.com

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