The theme of the 130-day Athens-to-Beijing Olympic torch relay happens to be ‘The Journey of Harmony’ with the slogan ‘Light the Passion, Share the Dream’. As things stand today, the run has been anything but harmonious, regardless how much Beijing tries to put up a straight face. That the Tibet issue has been magnified manifold riding piggyback on this very torch relay is ironic, considering what is to follow, the Olympic Games itself in Beijing, is supposed to be China’s showpiece. The relay route in India, as in several other countries, have been cut short following last month’s protests against China’s crackdown in Tibet. In India, however, the controversy has gathered new dimensions, needless ones, thereby shifting the focus from the torch relay to the protests.
The Government of India has been tackling the matter in a hop, skip and jump manner. New Delhi first made peace with Beijing — assuring the torch a safe passage — then played the ‘democracy card’ stating that it can’t stop protests but can only assure security to the runners in the relay. Security in India, of course, means swarming policemen, blocked roads and keeping the public away from the very function it is supposed to cheer on. Today’s Olympic torch rally would be no different. The only people who will make it to the one-hour run will be some 5,000 schoolchildren and the VVIPs. For others, reaching the venue won’t be easy. And that’s because the government, fearing protests, doesn’t really want anyone to participate in the torch event. One gets the feeling that New Delhi simply wants to get the whole business over and done with as quickly as possible. Which might explain why the final relay route is still unclear. But the route will be ‘sanitised’.
In the meantime, Indian Olympic Association President Suresh Kalmadi and Minister of State for Sports MS Gill have been sparring over who will be running in the relay. Mr Gill wants the torch to be carried by former athletic greats like Milkha Singh and PT Usha and a group of 20 young sportspersons selected from across the country.
Mr Kalmadi wants it to be opened up to any citizen from any walk of life, which seems to be boiling down to film stars, politicians and other VIPs. Meanwhile, the public participation in the Olympic torch relay as runners or spectators seems to have been given the go by. But the relay could still be a grand success — if good old Doordarshan covers the event with the necessary commentary.