Oct 5, 2010

Nation on Selective Amnesia

As the Common Wealth Games juggernaut sets to roll with its pomp and gaiety there are cheer leaders from all sections of the spectrum thumping India has arrived. In the force of this submerging cacophony the one strain that stands out is the metaphor that the Games sort of peaked towards the opening ceremony like a big fat Indian wedding. That despite all the muck that preceded, all crimes of the past are forgiven because the opening circus gave an orgasmic high. And then there was the usual dollops of jingoism that comes with the not so subtle message of the relentless march towards super-powerdom.

No where in recent history has the idea of Manufacturing Consent so clearly substantiated. For weeks on end in the run up towards the games there was a collective fury against the gross mismanagement of the organizing committee. Starting with corruption about contracts to UK based company peaking with the collapse of a footbridge to false ceiling coming of at the weight lifting venue. Then as the opening ceremony got closer everybody apparently learned their lessons overnight whatever was bad about the games got forgotten. It reads like a classic Hollywood script where the hero is put to innumerable conflicts and finally comes out a winner despite all the odds. Can an entire population be hoodwinked into such synchronicity. Why is the debate always hijacked to a safe terrain where the question and answers make no difference.

The question has to start from the propriety of the games. In nation where there has 421 million people live below the poverty line is this 6 billion dollar extravaganza with tax payers money the answer. It is 15 billion by another estimate. Nobody knows and will ever know what it costs for this ten day orgy . This is when the state is slowly withdrawing form vital sectors like education and healthcare. There are elaborate numbers on the economic impact of the games thrown by the organizing committee. But these for now most remains in the area of conjecture. And doesn’t this game reek of colonial arrogance. As recently as 1970 this games was called the British Empire and Commonwealth Games.

Will this mela have an impact in India’s dismal performance in international sports ? Sports administrators across the nation have commented that a minuscule portion of what is spend in the name of games would have helped to create meaningful sports infrastructure and training facilities. This could have helped to recover from the ignobility of a single gold medal in the Beijing Olympics. This billion dollar jamboree is not the answer to India’s problem is world sports

An event of this nature does create construction jobs in large numbers. But a report by a committee appointed by the Delhi high court on the "condition of workers" engaged in construction work is Commonwealth Games sites points is appalling to say the least. Independent investigations have found that more than 70 workers have been killed in accidents at the sites since work began. There is very little regard to the safety of workers mandated when making such grandiose structures. The workers are being made to work in harsh and unsafe conditions without basic amenities. The labor is subcontracted many times over that the average worker pay at the CWG site is 114 while the minimum daily wages mandated in Delhi is Rs. 151.

The ten lakh treadmill that was trumpeted in the media is small change compared to the Rs 2500 crore irregularities uncovered by the Central Vigilance Commission. The report included the use of sub-standard material, rigging of bids, sanctioning of projects which were not needed, favoritism in selection of contractors and private bidders being allowed to tamper with figures post-auction. A Tehleka report points to organizing committee Secretary Kalmadi’s ingenuity in awarding contracts : find a foreign firm to act as a partner in crime, then tilt the rules in such a way that no domestic competitor met the requirements. Kalmadi’s killer clause in all the tenders is that the companies making bids should have “relevant experience of working with sports events”. Thus a firm which manufactures generators was disqualified because it had never supplied its products for a sports event. That is why gensets are coming from abroad — so are furniture, treadmills, toilet paper and sanitary napkins. The size and contour of the corruption basket will only be larger if the governmental agencies would have the gut to go behind this.

CWG is a smart enterprise to channel public funds to the rich and needy under the pretext of nationalism-on-viagra. With all the shady deals that has gone into it, the only hope is that some kind of disaster doesn’t strike while the games are on. Not because it will injure the cause of India. But it will be irredeemable loss to the families.