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Delhi Games take the shine off 'Brand India'

India's Commonwealth Games ended on a triumphal note, but analysts say the event still fell short in its bid to showcase the strengths and aspirations of an emerging global power.

india Updated: Oct 15, 2010 13:02 IST

India's Commonwealth Games ended on a triumphal note, but analysts say the event still fell short in its bid to showcase the strengths and aspirations of an emerging global power.

In the end, India's efforts to parade its rapid economic progress were undermined by the parallel reality of an often chaotic and bureaucratic nation.

An impressive last-ditch, round-the-clock effort to put the Games back on track was largely successful, but only after shambolic preparations and months of negative publicity had raised the humiliating spectre of cancellation.

"I feel satisfied and relieved that this has gone off well, because we started off since the past two months on a rather cynical note," Delhi's chief minister Sheila Dikshit said as the sports were completed.

But several analysts argued that relief at having staved off looming disaster was a sentiment that highlighted India's weaknesses, rather than its strengths.

"It's a classic example of management by crisis, which is precisely the sort of stereotype of India that these Games were supposed to dismantle," said Robinder Sachdev, head of the New Delhi-based Imagindia Institute think-tank.

"The idea of being able to 'get it right in the end' is an image India neither needs or wants to perpetuate in corporate boardrooms overseas," Sachdev said.

"If it wants to grow, it has to prove that large scale projects can be planned and executed on time and on budget," he added.

The final cost of the 12-day event has been estimated at around six billion dollars -- the most expensive Commonwealth Games ever -- and Sachdev estimated that it could cost billions more in lost investor confidence.

Poor infrastructure is a drag on Indian growth and the haphazard implementation of a major upgrade of Delhi's transport system underlined the difficulties in executing large projects to high standards.

A footbridge next to the main stadium collapsed days before the opening ceremony, a train link to the airport remained unopened, and many new venues, metro stations and road flyovers were shabbily finished.

Newspapers were filled with stories about treadmills hired for 20,000 dollars, toilet paper bought for 80 dollars a roll, and contractors feasting on the multi-billion-dollar budget.

Samuel Paul, founder of the Bangalore-based Public Affairs Centre, which lobbies to improve government standards in India, said the Games had exposed India's problems with governance, transparency and accountability.

"The norms of conduct that should be found within an organisation are not in place, and the Games have shown that," Paul said.

"All this is not unexpected, but what amazes me is the systematic problems that exist even at the highest levels," he added.

Under the headline "I declare the games shut. Let the audits begin", Times of India columnist Rajesh Kalra on Thursday called for all venues to be sealed for a count of what had actually been delivered against what had been paid for.

"The list of mismanagement, misappropriation of funds, nepotism, favouritism, goes on and on," he said.

Foreign media coverage of the Games, which had been extremely critical in the run-up to the opening ceremony, was far more positive in its final verdict.

Despite the incompetence displayed by the organisers, Delhi had picked up the pieces and shown that "even the biggest mess can be cleaned up", The Sydney Morning Herald said.

"They've pulled it off admirably and deserve better than the carping, nit-picking and borderline racism that has masqueraded as informed coverage of the Games," wrote journalist Peter Hanlon.

Fears of a possible terrorist attack were assuaged by a sometimes suffocating security operation involving 17,000 paramilitary troopers and 80,000 police.

A strong performance by host nation athletes was also an enormous source of pride for a country where international sporting achievement has largely been limited to the cricket field.

As to whether the whole event was worth it, analysts said the enduring legacy of the Games -- in terms of infrastructure, image and prestige -- would only become apparent with time.

"If we really learn lessons from this and if it leaves public opinion more demanding of our business and political leaders, then yes, I think then it will have been worth it," said Sachdev.