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The games we play

The problem is that everyone in the government is accustomed to accepting shoddy work, writes Karan Thapar.

columns Updated: Mar 06, 2011 12:11 IST
Karan Thapar

If you’ve woken up this morning with a sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach then it’s possible you share the fear I have. The Commonwealth Games start today and I’m rather apprehensive. I hope all goes well but I fear that may not be the case. The next 11 days, till the 14th, when the Games will end, could prove to be a horribly long time.

Today, therefore, is an opportune moment to ask ourselves how we have got into this mess and who is to blame for it? The answer to the first half is obvious. We’re poor organisers. For example, 22 agencies were responsible for the Games. There was no clear-cut single leader in charge. It’s an undisputed case of too many cooks. But this fault was compounded by our reluctance to accept advice. Mike Fennell, the president of the Commonwealth Games Federation, says this, on top of our inexperience, meant we did not appreciate the complexity of the task or the best and most efficient way of tackling it.

The sad part is that none of this was unknown to us. Just look at our roads, bridges and buildings and it’s obvious we can’t build them properly. So why didn’t we seek help? Because we were not honest about our limitations and because we are too proud to ask a foreigner to step-in and bail us out. Oh well, pride goes before a fall and no doubt it will.

The more difficult issue is who’s to blame for embarrassing India. There’s no doubt that a huge measure of responsibility rests with Messrs Kalmadi, Gill and Jaipal Reddy and Sheila Dikshit. But we already know this. What we don’t readily accept is that the blame spreads far below them but also rises above them all the way to the top.

The problem is that everyone in the government is accustomed to accepting shoddy work. Unlike the private sector, they don’t own or pay for it and so they don’t care how it turns out. And since heads rarely roll, they habitually get away with it.

Second, we don’t have a culture of management and supervision in the government. We give orders but we don’t check or follow-up. And we don’t entrust work to the private sector. Frankly, it was folly to trust the Delhi Development Authority or Central Public Works Department with building stadiums. It was bizarre to leave the organising of a badly-delayed Games Village to the Organising Committee and certainly not after all the horror stories had revealed its true character.

None of this is really contentious. But how many of you will accept that the blame goes all the way to the very top, to the prime minister himself? Congressmen, no doubt, will howl in dissent. But that the finger also points at Manmohan Singh is hard to dispute.

He stepped in as far back as October last year when signs of trouble first emerged. He appointed a CEO and deputed three senior IAS officers from the Prime Minister’s Office. He also set up a GoM. So how come he did nothing further as the crisis developed? Even if his people did not inform him why did he not ask questions? Failure to do more is the lapse he’s guilty of.

Now the question is have we learnt any lessons from this dreadful experience? I’m sure everyone will say we have but the truth is we’ll only know for sure the next time we face a similar test. Frankly, that’s a frightening thought!

The views expressed by the author are personal