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Friday, July 30, 2010

Big money, big mess

By Swapan Dasgupta

For a person who is so unmistakably Anglo-Saxon by temperament, Mani Shankar Aiyar has never been partial to the understatement. Whether in private or in his public utterances, this "man of letters" (an unlikely honour accorded to him by an equally unlikely judge of the arts) has packaged his undeniable wit in reckless hyperbole, an impishness that once prompted me to describe him as the Beast of Myladuthurai—a recondite allusion to a character from juvenile literature of another age.

Ever since he came into public gaze as a functionary of the Prime Minister's Office way back in 1985, Mani has provided hours of amusement to all those who appreciate his brand of adult puerility. Unfortunately, Mani has a niche appeal and his wit has invited the righteous indignation of those not fortunate to have been raised on a diet of Carry On films and Kooler Talk. The weightier bits of Mani's interventions have been obscured by his merciless asides.

So it was with his spontaneous outburst against the Commonwealth Games, due to be hosted by Delhi in October. Having decried the thousands of crores being wasted on such "circuses", Mani fell back on Biblical imagery to suggest that "Those who are patronising the Games can only be Evil. They cannot be God." But it was his coup de grace that had the CWG officialdom reaching for their guns: "I will be very unhappy if the Games are successful because they will start bringing Asian Games, Olympic Games…" An incensed boss of the Indian Olympic Association Suresh Kalmadi, the prime target of Mani's ire, responded by calling him "anti-national", a charge that in public discourse is almost akin to questioning the marital status of one's parents.

If Mani had been playing the loose cannon yet again, his intervention would have been treated with the familiar Mani-is-Mani refrain. Unfortunately for the Government, and despite his characteristic overkill, Mani's gripe touched a responsive chord in a Delhi has been mute witness to an orgy of inept and profligate spending of taxpayers' money. In normal circumstances, the media and the political class have voiced the disquiet of citizens. In the case of the CWG, blessed with a mega-Budget of unimaginable proportions, there have been scattered voices against particular projects—the renovation of bus shelters in roads where buses don't run, the re-paving of perfectly decent pavements, the slipshod finishing of sporting venues, et al. Sadly, these haven't been accompanied by any dissection of the event in its totality. The reasons for this lapse are a matter of conjecture.

Mani's contribution lay in being bold enough to say that the Emperor has no clothes. Had he not done it aplomb and polemical exaggeration, no one would have taken notice. Now the growing scepticism over the CWG can't be ignored. In riding his socialistic hubby horse, he has unwittingly created a window of opportunity for a widespread expression of disgust.

Beginning from the Berlin Olympics of 1936, international sporting events have become the occasion for countries and their governments to showcase themselves to the wider world. Yet, to succeed, official endeavours have to be accompanied by a huge measure of popular involvement, the Sydney Olympics of 2004 and even the just-concluded soccer World Cup in South Africa being case studies of purposeful harmony. What is striking about the Delhi CWG is the marked alienation of local citizens from an event that is also aimed at leaving behind a tangible legacy for the future.

Part of the reason lies in the sheer arbitrariness that marked the decision-making over civic improvements. In normal democratic societies, the re-fashioning of a city ought to have been preceded by widespread consultations between planners, local authorities and civil society. In the case of Delhi, tardiness at the initial stages led to a flurry of rushed decisions that left no time to observe the niceties of consultation. Whereas the objective of civic improvements should have been to create a better city, the late start meant that the completion of projects by October 2010 became the sole criterion. The inevitable consequence was a series of decisions that post-CWG Delhi may well come to regret.

The rush to meet an inflexible deadline has, of course, resulted in shoddy civil works that could result in some of the sports complexes becoming unusable in a year's time. But more galling has been the overhead route of the Delhi Metro that runs precariously close to residential areas, schools and even hospitals. Equally offensive has been the systematic felling of trees, the destruction of storm water drains and the questionable aesthetics of beautification. From being a city of parks, Delhi is in danger of becoming a city of parking lots.

This celebration of brashness isn't confined to the murder of aesthetics alone; it has a bearing on public finances. When the NDA Government cleared the proposal to bid for the CWG, it was said that the cost would be Rs 150 crore. To enhance the quality of the bid, the figure was raised to nearly Rs 1,900 crore. Some cost over-runs were predictable—the cost of hosting the London Olympics in 2012 has risen fourfold from £2.3 billion to £9.4 billion—and dependant on the scale of the legacy projects. In the case of the CWG, there is a mystery over the actual costs with estimates ranging from Rs 30,000 crore to Rs 50,000 crore.

How much of this money has been judiciously spent to create tangible assets for the future? Scepticism is justified when people see perfectly decent pavements in Lutyens' Delhi being uprooted for something new and then new one being again uprooted because someone forgot the drains or the water pipes. If there is a subsequent audit, it will reveal innumerable horror stories, enough to keep the ubiquitous CBI busy for years to come. If there isn't, the CWG will set a new benchmark of brazenness.

The CWG will have beneficiaries. Regrettably, it won't be the people of Delhi.

Deccan Chronicle/ Asian Age, July 30, 2010


Anonymous said...

Really enjoyed your writeup , very incisive !

I prefer a Mani Shankar Aiyar (& his brother Swaminathan Aiyar too ) for his honesty , lack of dissembling & lateral thinking to many in hindutva bandwagon.

Bear with me for going tangential. In a way Mani Shankar Aiyar is related to me though we have never seen each other. He does not even know of my existence.

But I am more than familiar with the dubious credentials of a whole lot of tambrams hailing from Mani's extended family network. Hence to that extent I can empathise with his disillusionment with the sanctimonious tambrams.

Unfortunately he swung to the other extreme & openly admitted also of having done away with his Sacred Thread , taking to liquor & beef eating. God alone knows what he could have achieved had he chosen the Seer of Kaanchi as his GURU.

The rest of those tambram relatives eat beef , pork , crab , prawn frog etc etc smoke pipe , wear thongs , knotted blouses exposing gym toned midriff etc etc BUT posture very breathtakingly with nine yard sarees , flowers in false hair , bifurcated veshti ( dhoti) etc etc at the appropriate time.

Much more than DMK , DK & the rest of alleged anti brahmins it is actually Kaanchi Paramaacharya who has minced no words in thoroughly upbraiding the brahmin community for their abominable arrogance , duplicity & transgression of code of conduct prescribed by Him ( The Scriptures / Vedas )

The perennially holier than thou unctuous swadeshi brigade saw a potently vulnerable target in Mani Shankar Aiyar to sing their lugubrious dirge (sic) booohooo...hinduism in danger from phoren hand blahbalh..globalization yadayada.

When I was in V standard , a senior girl student called Subashini ( class XI) came clad in a lungi wearing goggles for school anniversary celebrations . (Those days it was called go go glasses in tamil tabloids). Which drew wolf whistles from the boys ( we were segregated in entirely two separate buildings Girls in Lansdowne Rd , Boys in Hazra Rd thrown into OVERT visual contact ONLY during anniversary function )

For decades I recall the school management , the entire hindu community bemoaning how Subashini & her lungi plus goggles is the causative factor behind speedy onset of kaliyuga aiyoaiyo yadayadayada.

Nothing has changed. Swadeshis are inherently fuddyduddies incapable of facing the Truth & calibrating.

I heard only Mani Shankar Aiyar using the phrase " inclusive governanace ". Whereas Advanis , Murli Manohar Joshis etc pontificate about " looking after muslims & christians of India ".

Anonymous said...

China planned every minute detail with laudable meticulousness. By actually planting a lot of trees & plants years before hosting of Olympic games.

Australia when faced with uprooting of certain sturdy old trees thought of an emulation worthy alternative. Instead of cutting them away they shifted them whole to a Nursery housing them there with CARE .

What does smug India do ? In a single day fells hundreds of Trees. And like a perfectly dangerous idiot announces :-

" ...let us uproot lots of trees & plants from West Bengal & bring them to delhi...".

Kiran Raivaderra said...

Swapan'da is one of the most perceptive commentators in our country and revered by all. But problem is that he refuses, almost stubbornly, to be simple. Simplicity either eludes him or he avoids it like plague. As a result, unfortunately, he ends up being obscure and obfuscating. This is not a complaint but a regret as i have been his hardcore fan. Despite being more intelligent and saner, he is less popular than say, Vir Sanghvi.

Anonymous said...

Apropos Mani Shankar Aiyar being called " anti national " by Suresh Kalmadi...I am so underwhelmed by overwhelming deja vu.

My parents were bold enough NOT to send me for independence day flaghoisting etc etc in my school once. As that being the only holiday for me I needed some respite. I had to commute for more than 5 hours from the suburbs of West Bengal to reach my GODDAMNED school in downtown Calcutta.

The next day one of the Tyrants , oops , teachers shouted at me asking why I was absent.
I told her honestly :-
" For the sake of a few Parry's peppermints willynilly thrust into my hand after an excruciating journey , PT lazium exercises , dandia dance followed by crooning of little understood desh bhakthi songs I did not want to sacrifice a holiday ".

At once the entire class gasped & glared at me branding me a "desh drohee" yadayada . The Tyrant punished me . What else can TYRANTS do ??

Anonymous said...

Swapan your own blog thoughts are no more. You just copy & paste from the articles you write in national newspapers, which have to be somewhat politically correct. A blog is an instrument where the person can write more freely without undue pressure of media owners.

Anonymous said...

How to identify a white desi snob, a secular gigolo? Read the first reply. yadayada, fuddyduddy, blahblah.... it is so easy to identify them. So much typical.

santosh said...


First of all I want to convey my appreciation to you for your wonderful articles. Problem or I would say unfortunate thing with nationalist parties/groups is that they are mostly Hindu groups and thus branded as Hindutva supporters and our liberal media (who are so disconnected with common people) has given them so much bad name that no one really listens to their genuine points related to national security, aspirations etc. To some extent these groups are responsible for that state because they lack articulation. I would request you, and I guess I speak for many people, that please start a news/current affairs channel geared more towards familiarizing our people with true history of India. True secular India. And I believe you are the perfect person to do that. There is a big space for such a channel and I feel commercially it would be a viable venture. Have people like Govindacharya, Arun Shourie, Cho Ramaswamy. In absence of any such venture I am afraid people like Lalu, Mulayam, Congress will degenerate our Indian culture and gradually Hindu survival will be stake.


Anonymous said...

Apropos Santosh's suggestion ,

Please Swapan Dasgupta , DO NOT EVER fall for this bait of rescuing / uplifting the society or India or world or hindus.

A Seer said :-

" Any noble person with a desperate itch of reformation of the entire society / bringing total unalloyed equality among all , absolute health for all , eternal youth for all / establishing Utopia in this world eventually gets cured of the itch only by realizing it can NEVER be accomplished. It is simply not worth it ".

There was this man who propitiated God for powers of curing leprosy by instant healing . It really happened not a story. He did cure many.

But before dying he smote his forehead bemoaning :-

" What a waste of my life...most of those I cured with good intentions have not really turned out to be noble people after all...Many have taken to adharmic acts & vices. Not just leprosy there is always going to be many kinds of diseases , afflictions , even more mutated virulent forms of germs in this world. Why did I propitiate God asking for such silly boons " ?

Hindus , I mean Indians in general are atrociously self congratulatory.

A lot of Pakistanis , Arabs , Christians , WHITES , BLACKS , JEWS , CHINESE in this wide world are not children of some lesser God.

They are much more capable , trustworthy , competent , bright , intelligent , NICE & LIKEABLE .

Many parables & stories relating to Jesus Christ have absolutely same similar echoes in our Puranams & allegorical stories too .

Anonymous said...

One more instance of Indians ' ultrazealous concepts of patriotism / anti nationalism that makes me as angry today as I was then.

I started learning English all by myself only after coming to IX standard. Till then it was mostly rote learning.

In VI std , my teacher asked me to write a poem on The Moon and submit it in two
days. That was how cretinously autocratic my school teachers were.

Naturally I asked my father to compose one. Which he did. Which was quite a lengthy & interesting poem. As he explained it to me.

A fortnight after submitting it , the teacher called me telling my poem on Moon was rejected as it was "anti national & treasonous".

Why ? The last lines read like :-

" America ( the West ) can reach you with their Spacecraft ..../ we can only sigh from our bullock cart... ( am paraphrasing can't recall the exact rhyme).

That did not disturb me much. BUT she obdurately refused to return my poem. I did not have a copy.Despite my pleadings she asked me to " get out of the class ".

Judge for yourself.

Whenever I pass by that useless school building in Lansdowne Road , I never forget to turn my face away.

Sid said...

To all Iyer-loving, pro-brahmin, ant-brahmin, pro-secular, anti-secular, school-hating "Anonymous"es,
get a life. Seriously.

Siddhartha Prakash said...

Mani is a hero for having the guts to call a spade a spade.
People of India are not so fool as to mistake the pocketing of taxpayer's money with 'showcasing India".

It is just a decision to decide the stakeholders in the 50000 Cr amount to be spent. Also it is well known that Kalmadi is a Sonia confidante. Even if it was our PM Manmohan Singh questioning the holding of commonwealth games, he would have been 'silenced'. Pity our democracy.

KR said...

What's being missed is that MS Aiyar is simply a front for the Sonia family (how did he get his Rajya Sabha seat?). The family had since 2004 to arrange things for the Games, and Aiyar himself was sports minister until a couple of years ago. If they had reservations about the Games, there was plenty of time to move them to another country. Speaking up at this late stage comes off as an attempt to avoid getting tarred n case the Games fail. Of course, if they succeed, no one will remember the controversy as it will be quickly buried.