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Sunday, October 10, 2010

Our best game: Chip on my shoulder

By Swapan Dasgupta

There are different explanations as to why the Government of India spent Rs 70,000 crore or more to host the Commonwealth Games. To the cynical, it was an incentive package for the country's burgeoning, public sector-driven 'cash and carry' economy. To political animals, it was aimed at boosting the prospects of Sheila Dikshit, the Delhi Chief Minister who is now inclined to pitch for the Olympics. To parochial Delhiites, the flyovers, expanded metro and upgraded civic infrastructure were about adding value to the proverbial corner plot. And to the insouciant Suresh Kalmadi, the Games were all about himself. According to The Times (London), Kalmadi has gratuitously asked the organisers of the London Olympics to consider contracting his services—presumably with Lalit Bhanot of "different standards of hygiene" fame in tow.

Midway through the proceedings, it is also becoming apparent what the Games are not about. First, it is not about people's participation in an event paid for by taxpayers. The empty stands testify to the fact that the Games are about as people-unfriendly an extravaganza as officialdom and Doordarshan can manage. Secondly, the Games are not about showcasing India's abilities. The colossal displays of incompetence, venality and deceitful conduct have given a new meaning to Incredible India.

Thanks to a dynamic private sector which, mercifully, was relatively uninvolved in the bacchanalia of a decrepit Establishment, India hasn't been totally written off yet but its ego has been deflated. It will take much more than self-congratulatory myth-building to remove the perception that underneath the hype there is still too much of the Third World lingering in India.

Finally, there is one thing this CWG isn't about: the Commonwealth.

The complete detachment of an enterprise from its avowed purpose has never been more marked and more deliberate. The CWG may have had its origins in the British Empire Games of the 1930s but despite the changed circumstances there has always been a common endeavour: to nurture a sense of community through friendship.

The one crucial element missing from the gathering in Delhi is that feeling of fraternity. The CWG could well have been an impersonal package tour of Delhi where visitors arrive, do their number, are treated to a capsuled version of Indian culture, see the Taj Mahal, taste a curry, experience Delhi belly and fly away carrying a T-shirt and memento.

Actually, it's been worse. From the time New Zealander Mike Hooper, CEO of the Commonwealth Games Federation, got into a spat with Kalmadi and Bhanot, and was reviled for being a white man, the behaviour of the Indian hosts has been downright boorish and offensive. A contrived protocol standoff between Prince Charles and President Pratibha Patil unleashed a needless wave of apoplectic xenophobia; Bhanot decided that Australians, Scots and the English were racist fuss pots for demanding clean mattresses and spotless toilets; the governor-general of New Zealand (who is of Indian origin) was needlessly snubbed in Delhi on Thursday with an external affairs ministry boycott of his lunch because some low-life anchor in Auckland had tastelessly caricatured Dikshit`s name; delegations from Africa and the Caribbean were treated peremptorily because they didn't come into the Organising Committee's radar; and it took a formal protest by Uganda to secure an Indian apology for an accident caused by a malfunctioning security barrier.

Nor did civil society do any better. In our bid to show off our culture and achievements we forgot that the diversity of the Commonwealth needed showcasing too. Was there anything done in Delhi to demonstrate to the numerous countries that India too was interested in them? A golden moment to build bridges across the Anglosphere—after all, the Commonwealth is essentially an English-speaking Union—was squandered by an attitude bordering on insular arrogance.

The real irony is that the Commonwealth as we know it today was created at the behest of India. In 1947, it was both Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Patel who forcefully insisted that India should remain in the Commonwealth, as an independent republic and without being subservient to the Crown. To them, these connections forged by Empire were an asset. It was the parallel desire of the United Kingdom and the Dominions (Australia, Canada, New Zealand and, interestingly, South Africa) to accommodate India that led to the creation of the Commonwealth. The body may not count for much politically, but it has a formidable reach and is an important element in public diplomacy.

Kalmadi, it may be suggested in hindsight, isn't merely an individual; he personifies a mindset. As a supplicant of Kalmadi, official India approached the CWG with a puerile boastfulness that rapidly turned to cussedness once alarm bells started ringing. To many Indians, this cockiness equals national pride; to many outsiders it suggests that India doesn't merely have a chip on its shoulder, it has a chip on both its shoulders.

Sunday Times of India, October 10, 2010


Pijush said...

1. 70000 crore = $15 billion USD. Let's put that figure in perspective: the Beijing Olympics cost $20 billion, the Athens Olympics $11 billion as per today's rates. More pertinently, the Melbourne Commonwealth cost $1.5 billion. The CWG is nowhere near as important as the Olympics, on the other hand India needed to make a grand statement, also it lacked the facilities which Melbourne already had. Considering all this, one would say $5 billion should have been absolute limit. That means $10 billion has gone down the drain. This is an unpardonable scam on India.

2. But what is Kalmadi's budget in this? 1600 crore (a fact confirmed by MS Aiyyar) which is $0.3 billion! Obviously he cannot be held responsible for swindling $10 billion. Yet, somehow Kalmadi has been made the fall guy of the CWG.

3. It is clear that the media offensive was contrived and the inordinate attention on Kalmadi (toilet rolls?!) was to deflect attention from the bigger fish. Sadly, you too have fallen into this Kalmadi trap.

4. Your soft-peddling the "Commonwealth" is quite appalling. The Commonwealth is a morally disagreeable concept, because by it's charter, the British Queen is the lifelong Head of this fraternity. And now the son of the British Queen has positioned himself as the heir to that title. No other club of nations, be it the UN, NATO, OIC, SAARC has given one particular member-nation such a special privilege - the heads are always the General Secretaries. Simply put, India is not an equal member in this "fraternity", and therefore it should opt out of it as quickly as possible.

satyam said...

nice one....
the only danger is that since the queen's games havent EXACTLY collapsed we might well have the olympic bids as well... god forbid if we win the bid i wonder what the budget will be....scary

Anonymous said...

hi swapan

liked your article.... i also have posted comment on toi webpage...
here's a related article i came across

indians for some reason do indeed have a chip on their shoulders.our politicians treat us like small children. in ancient time, charvak philosophers used to mercilessly mock the vedas. i don't know how indians came to develop such attitude. we have this huge culture of sycophancy and mediocrity which probably leads to such behavior and such comments like by that gut lalit bhanot...


Meghana said...

Kalmadi is one politician who's fiefdom was seldom challenged; frankly nobody in India really cares about Shotput Throw champions (that is, if they indeed are champions). Kalmadi's clout was over practical nobodys. No one in the media cared about Kalmadi-antics until the really big thing - the CWG - happened. The clown with the beard suddenly found himself lording over much more money that he could siphon. However, incompetence and clumsiness exposed him much easily to the quick-bite, instant-coffee news media.

Comparatively, Mr MS Gill and Ms Sheila Dikshit managed their side of the siphoning pretty well, creating difficult to unearth scam schemes. An impatient media had no time for them.

ravinder said...



But I guess even BJP and Swapan da won't really go after the real scam. After all this CWG joke was passed by BJP.

Anyhow seems like working on such Big ticket items of misplaced priorities is beyond the paygrade of those in BJP. We Indians will have to think in terms of a new solution to take care of such problems. Dekte hein....

Indian Nationalist said...

i know Mr. Swapan you will not post my comments but i will try one more time

The Anglo-saxon(your white masters) period if over. Intelligent people have already realized it, Some brown Sahibs like yourself are late in realizing.

A power vacuum has emerged. Who will fill that vacuum is not clear but increasingly China and Russia are filling that gap. Good for them as Islamic Ummah also looks to be a possibility.

Meanwhile my niece has started attending her school which has introduced Mandarin as the 3rd langauge.

Perhaps the school principal is more intelligent than the Bengali babu journalist.

Wake up and smell the coffee....Mr DasGupta.....Or are you going to ask this question about if India has offended the commonwealth again?.

You can reach me on my twitter account.