Monday, 27 September 2010

The Commonwealth Games Mess: Whose Fault Is It?

China could do it. India wanted to do it, but has made a hash of it (so far). Why? Why? Why?

India’s upper classes dreamt of holding an international sports event in a manner that would make India shine brighter and make India an even more attractive investment destination. I doubt if this dream belonged half as much to the lower classes. In any event, no effort was made to sell this dream to India’s lower middle-classes and the poor. It would have been a hard sell anyway. Why bother when all they get out of it is an eviction if they happen to live in a place earmarked for the Games? In a democracy like India, this can be fatal. If India’s poor don’t care about the Commonwealth Games, they won’t care if the organisers mess it up. When its election time again, India’s poor who make up the bulk of India’s voting population, will not punish those in power who failed to deliver. The politicians know this. On the other hand, the politician(s) who made money out of this extravaganza will have the money to splash out on his election campaign. In all probability, such politician(s) will be back in power.

I used to have a great deal of respect for Sheila Dixit, the Chief Minister of Delhi, until recently considered to be one of India’s best Chief Ministers. I had started liking Rahul Gandhi, heir apparent to the leadership of the Congress Party and Prime Minister in-waiting. Rahul had seemingly thrown off his playboy image and appeared to be a serious politician, one who could connect with India’s youth. However, all of this has happened right under Rahul Gandhi’s and Sheila Dixit’s noses. More importantly, everyone knew that the Games’ preparations were behind schedule. In all probability, in the time honoured Indian way, the Big People in Delhi knew that their minions were making money out of the construction work and the preparations. In all probability, they were receiving a cut – how else would they have money for the next elections? If everyone in power in Delhi had taken a cut from the Games’ budget, how could they crack down on the organising committee even after it became apparent that things were not going to plan?

Before I say anything more, let me confess that I do not have a ring-side view of what’s happening in Delhi. I am not even in India and my only sources are newspapers and the television. It’s obvious from the reports I read and see that if the work had been finished a few weeks earlier, before the advance teams landed up in Delhi, the dirt and grime and shit that has been repeatedly shown on TV would have been cleaned up. The only mistake the organisers made was to run behind schedule. There was never a serious attempt to not use child labour or to provide a decent living wage and accommodation to the labourers who did the work. I doubt if the organisers even thought of setting up portable toilets for the workers. Most probably, China didn’t do any of these either, but then they managed to finish the work in time and clean up their act before the international press or the advance teams landed up. China also most probably managed to keep its labourers disciplined enough to not to shit in the loos or spit into the sparkling wash basins they installed. Anyone who broke the rules most probably had a week’s wages docked. India couldn’t/ can’t do all that. It is a democracy.

China’s communist party leadership cares about China’s image in the rest of the world. In India, the only ones who care about India’s image are its upper classes. Even the top politicians don’t care about it beyond a point since getting elected every five years is much more important. If something similar had happened in China, a few heads would have rolled. Literally. In India, the corrupt can’t be punished even if the government wants to punish them since the judicial system is not efficient and has too many loopholes. A few months after the Games are over, India would have moved on. I doubt if even a single politician or bureaucrat will go to jail on account of this fiasco.

There has been a lot of handwringing amongst India’s upper classes as a result of all this negative publicity. India’s nice people want action. They want the necks of those in the organising committee. However, there is no demand that the government should clamp down on child labour throughout India or that all labourers working on construction sites should have portable toilets or that they should all be paid a living wage and not have to live in unhygienic conditions. From the outset, the Games has been an attempt to clean up a very small part of India and show it to the rest of the world. To use an example, it is akin to a rich man with new money inviting the richest and nicest people in town to a party. His poor relations have been roped in to do the cooking and cleaning and washing up. However, they are not a part of the party and are meant to leave before the party starts. The party would still turn out fine if it is properly planned and everything is done in time. However, if the cooking or other preparations aren’t completed in time, the poor relations can’t be hidden in time when the guests arrive. No, the guests will see them cooking and cleaning when they arrive. No, it won’t look very nice and it will sort of spoil the image. And it has in Delhi.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Another interesting view