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Indian Games: The Slumdogs thrive–the millionaires survive

September 26, 2010 Leave a comment

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

Leaked CBI documents: Militants to target Foreign Nationals at Commonwealth Games in New Delhi

September 25, 2010 Leave a comment

PKKH EXCLUSIVE

Naxalite separatist militants will be targetting foreign nationals and athletes in next week’s Commonwealth Games in New Delhi – according to TOP SECRET documents leaked to PKKH from New Delhi’s Central Bureau of Investigation, Special Crime Unit.

The reports identify two separate militant groups, one of which has come under the radar as recently as 18th of September, as the athletes and forward teams start arriving in New Delhi.

LEAKED INTELLIGENCE DOCUMENTS FROM CENTRAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION, NEW DELHI

The militant groups are said to have been supplied with explosives, gelatin sticks and detonators by ‘a large network’, related to the August 27th incident in Madhya Pradesh where a hundred and sixty three (163) trucks laden with explosives went missing. NDTV reported at the time the trucks were loaded with detonators and gelatine sticks which were being sent from the government’s Dholpur Factory in Rajasthan to Chanderi and Sagar town in Madhya Pradesh.

Both companies are owned by Jaikishan Aswani, who has close links with extremist Hindu militant groups.

With barely days to go before the start of the Commonwealth Games, the leak of these documents is bound to raise serious doubts over the security and threat perception for the games, already reeling from planning and construction issues as well as the pull-out of leading international athletes citing security and hygeine concerns.

On Tuesday, September 21st, an Australian television news crew managed to enter the main games arena carrying a suitcase with an explosives detonation kit without being stopped.

The Channel 7 journalist who also filmed blackmarket explosives on sale near New Delhi, walked into the venue carrying the case, capable of triggering upto 200 explosions if fitted with a detonator, without attracting suspicion.

The Indian government has asked the army to be on alert in view of the Commonwealth Games. The alert was sounded after several nations raised security concerns following the September 19 Jama Masjid shooting in which two Taiwanese tourists were injured and a bomb went off in a car near the firing spot.

However, the fact that this latest information regarding the naxalite plans to specifically target foreign nationals and athletes has come to light this late, security officials are said to be horrified at what lies in wait as athletes start arriving in Delhi for the games.

‘We knew there would be threats and we had covered most of the ground where we saw these threats coming from. However this new information is absolutely devastating since we just do not know enough at this stage to be able to confidently reassure the public that the games will go on without incident. All we know is that there are people intent on killing the foreign nationals and that they have the means to do so. There is a serious amount of explosives and detonation kits channeled into Delhi specifically for these games’, said a security official to PKKH on condition of anonymity.

Dirty India doesn’t now meaning of clean: NYT

September 25, 2010 Leave a comment

Dirty India doesn’t now meaning of clean: NYT

NEW DELHI — Had the statement come from a non-Indian, especially a Westerner, it probably would have been angrily repudiated as an affront to Indian dignity. But the offending words came from a top Indian official trying to deflect criticism for the bureaucratic failings and lax preparations threatening the coming Commonwealth Games.

The issue was reports of unsanitary conditions inside the athletes’ village, a facility promoted by Indian organizers as world class. Officials of the New Zealand team, arriving early, had been horrified at dirt-caked bathrooms and soiled rooms. The explanation offered by Lalit Bhanot, the second-ranking official on the organizing committee? Indians and Westerners have different standards of hygiene.

“These rooms are clean to both you and us,” Mr. Bhanot told Indian reporters this week. Foreigners “want certain standards in hygiene and cleanliness which may differ from our perception,” he said.

India had hoped the Commonwealth Games, a quadrennial athletic competition among nations of the former British Empire, would serve as a public relations vehicle to show off the economic progress that has made the country a rising power. Instead, the world is witnessing an ugly spectacle of bureaucratic dysfunction that only confirms the image of governmental ineffectiveness that Indian leaders hoped to dispel.

Indians acknowledge that sanitation is woefully lacking in many parts of the country. But Mr. Bhanot’s suggestion that their government cannot, even under the glare of a global spotlight, deliver a high standard of hygiene in an expensive new facility fueled broad public indignation that rippled through television talk shows and Internet message boards.

“It is unbelievable that a person holding such a responsible position can make such a statement,” said J. Anand, vice president of a New Delhi travel agency. “Hygiene is hygiene, whether it is in India or anywhere else. I feel embarrassed by that statement.”

The dirty bathroom controversy is just the latest problem to plague the games. New Delhi has experienced record monsoon rains, causing periodic flooding in low-lying areas and amplifying the seasonal outbreak of mosquito-borne dengue fever. Missed deadlines have officials racing to finish work, and a pedestrian bridge under construction collapsed this week, injuring 27 people. Already, as many as nine athletes have dropped out of the Games.

Now the photographic leitmotif of the games is filthy bathrooms. Snapshots taken of an apartment in the athletes’ village with dirt-caked bathrooms and toilets, a mattress stained with dog paw prints and a sink smeared with the spittle of chewing tobacco have ricocheted across the Internet. On Friday, two leading Indian newspapers ran some of the photos on their front pages.

The dirty conditions have prompted several teams to delay their arrival into New Delhi, with only eight days before the Oct. 3 opening ceremony. If the situation has been embarrassing, it mostly reflected the abysmal management that has plagued the Games; some laborers had used the rooms during construction, and housekeepers had failed to clean up on time.

Anyone living in India is inevitably confronted by squalor, whether the slums and shantytowns that exist in most cities or the beggars, often children, who tap on car windows for change. Few Indians would argue that poverty is not a paramount national concern, and many domestic critics of the games argued that the country was still too poor to spend so much money on what is effectively a government prestige event.

Mr. Bhanot’s comments hit a raw nerve because many middle class Indians make a distinction between public and private standards. If public bathrooms in government buildings are usually dirty, private homes are usually immaculate. Most people pay close attention to their appearance and cleanliness, even as public roads are usually potholed and public buildings are often not well maintained.

“It’s not that somehow people don’t recognize the truth that there is a problem about public standards of hygiene in India,” said Pratap Bhanu Mehta, president of the Center for Policy Research in New Delhi. “But usually we have dealt with it by confining it to the public space. We think private standards are very high. And he seemed to be questioning that.”

Foreigners visiting India invariably run into the chaotic, often dirty public sphere throbbing outside their hotels, coloring their impressions of the country. Keshav R. Murugesh, chief executive of WNS Global Services, a Mumbai outsourcing company, said Indian companies needed to work hard to persuade international customers that Indians could do complicated work in a timely and exacting manner.

Mr. Murugesh worried that clients, having seen the controversy over the athletes’ village, would now wonder: “Is that how I’m being served?” He jokingly added: “I just wish they had outsourced it to us.”

The irony of the cleanliness controversy is that the bathrooms in the athletes’ village represent the sort of luxury most Indians never experience. The walls are made with marble, and the sinks and toilets appear equipped with expensive fixtures. For much of India, the lack of access to a toilet and the absence of adequate sanitation are widespread problems blamed for the spread of disease as well as the contamination of the country’s rivers and other water sources.

Bindeshwar Pathak, founder of the Sulabh International Social Service Organization, has spent 40 years promoting the need to expand sanitation in India. His group has placed more than 1.2 million household toilets around the country and operates a toilet museum in New Delhi to promote awareness about sanitation.

Meanwhile, the effort to scrub the athletes’ village moved into extra high gear on Friday. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh ordered organizers to intensify cleaning efforts at the village immediately, while the Indian news media reported that the government had asked several of the country’s elite private hotels to complement the cleaning effort.

Athletes trickling into the city were reportedly being put up temporarily in hotels, though international sports officials, who have blasted the lack of preparations, sounded more optimistic on Friday.

“Conditions at the Commonwealth Games Village are acceptable,” said Perry Crosswhite, head of Australia’s delegation, according to The Associated Press. “Things are getting better every time.”

For his part, Mr. Bhanot has backpedaled, trying to argue that his comments were taken out of context. But he is not the only local official who has offended the public.

When the hurriedly built pedestrian bridge near the main stadium collapsed during construction this week, a senior official, Jaipal Reddy, tried to dismiss the accident as a “minor matter,” even though many people thought it symbolized the risks of delaying preparations until the last minute. Sheila Dikshit, chief minister of New Delhi, also initially described the collapse as “minor.”

The Times of India ran photographs of the dirty bathrooms on Friday and denounced the “criminal unconcern” of games officials.

“They must be made to pay,” it blared, “so that India’s name is not dragged so willfully into the mud ever again.” Games Official Angers India With Hygiene Comment By JIM YARDLEY

Hari Kumar and Heather Timmons contributed reporting.