[2010-10-17] On The 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi

The 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi (CWG) has thankfully ended, that too on a high note - the games went fairly well on the whole and India came second in the overall medals tally thanks to a gold-medal-winning match on the last day by Saina Nehwal. It was a big relief, coming as it did after revelations of shocking mismanagement, massive corruption and utter callousness of the concerned officials, which were threatening to derail the games and bring shame to India.

Saina's match against Malaysia's Mee Chew Wong for the women's singles final in badminton, in which she pulled back from a match-point against her in the second set and went on to win the match (19-21, 23-21, 21-13), was like an image of the whole CWG experience for India - we managed to pull through at the last minute despite all of the odds against that happening.

It was hard to remain unaffected by the CWG. The months leading to the games were filled with one revelation after another in the media about corruption and mismanagement. A shocking 70,000 crore rupees (more than 15 billion US dollars) were apparently spent in total on organising the event. There were so many controversies around the event that Wikipedia has an entire page devoted to the subject.

To add insult to injury, the officials involved appeared completely unconcerned and dismissive of criticism. Sheila Dikshit, the chief minister of Delhi, dismissed the problems with the games as "minor glitches and hitches" and asked people to have a positive attitude in the interest of "national pride". When asked about the abysmal state of the games village, Lalit Bhanot, the general secretary of the organising committee for the games, gave an appalling justification for the state of affairs by claiming that Indians have different standards of hygiene compared to westerners. M. S. Gill, the minister of sports, termed the preparations for the games "satisfactory" when it was apparent to everyone that it was anything but. He also attacked people like Azim Premji who claimed that the CWG was a massive waste of money that should have been spent elsewhere in a poor country like India. As for Suresh Kalmadi, the chairman of the organising committee, the less said, the better.

There were thankfully no terror attacks during the games, especially considering the apparent warning attack by extremists a couple of weeks before the games were about to begin. There is still some debate in certain quarters whether this was due to tightened security and surveillance on part of the government or the extremists giving up on derailing the games considering the excellent job being done by the organising committee itself towards this end. They are probably furious now after being hoodwinked like this. In software engineering parlance, the utter chaos before the games was therefore a feature, not a bug, in the interests of national security.

An investigation has been launched into this whole mess by the prime minister's office, but I remain sceptical that all the offenders will be brought to justice. This could just be a ploy to placate the people and buy some time. We, the people, have a notoriously short memory of scandals and politicians everywhere make good use of this shortcoming to line their pockets and get re-elected. We truly deserve the governments we get.

We were going to bid for the 2020 Summer Olympics, but hopefully better sense prevails. I agree with Azim Premji, the founder of Wipro, and with Mani Shankar Aiyar, the former minister for sports, that organising huge sports events like this is a waste of money, especially in a country like India with a large population that is poor and has inadequate access to affordable food, shelter, healthcare and education. It doesn't make sense even for a rich country for that matter. Such events don't promote international friendship despite what the organisers would have you believe. In India, people aren't even that interested in watching them. City administrators use such events to fast-track civic and sports infrastructure, which would otherwise get stuck in long bureaucratic and judicial hurdles - only Delhi reaps all the benefits from the CWG while the whole nation gets to share the shame.

The callousness, mismanagement and corruption at events like the CWG tarnish our country's image and affect each one of us, directly and indirectly. They reinforce racial stereotypes and prejudices about Indians that many of us have been trying very hard to overcome. In "Old India vs New India", Vir Sanghvi says:

The people in charge of the Games typify old India: corrupt, slothful, incompetent, chaotic, unconcerned with the pursuit of excellence, unwilling to benchmark against global standards and convinced that in India, sab chalta hai.

The people who are most angered and horrified by the CWG mess are those who believe that we are creating a new India: one that can do things to global standards, whose competence and intelligence are highly regarded all over the world, an India where people work hard, where there are high levels of accountability and where commitments are treated as sacred.


As hard as we try to build a new India, this fiasco reminds us that old India still has the power to humiliate and embarrass our country.

Pankaj Mishra makes a similar point in the New York Times.

We  can hope for progress in India only if the new India continues to remain ascendant and supplants the old India.

(Originally posted on Blogspot.)

Other Posts from 2010