It’s been a confirmation of what the nation had been fearing all along. Instead of using an international sporting event to showcase India’s much-vaunted prowess as a global powerhouse and Delhi’s status as a ‘world city’, the Commonwealth Games (CWG) has become a polaroid of everything that remains wrong about India 2010. If the feedback about the state of the Games Village from foreign missions being “unliveable” and “filthy” wasn’t humiliating enough, the collapse of a footbridge near the Jawaharlal Nehru stadium as well as the collapse of a false ceiling within the same complex added injury to insult. The authorities may explain away the first complaint as a matter of cultural subjectivity. But the injury of 27 workers, with five reportedly in a “serious condition”, is as objective an indictment of our authorities as it can possibly be. In both cases, the fall guy trotted out by the authorities over the last few weeks, heavy rainfall, wasn’t to blame. Humans were.
Nations hosting international events don’t wake up at the last moment only to flail about in panic. They start planning from years ahead so that there’s a timeframe on which to rest and test until the actual show begins. The seeds of disaster were planted much before things got out of hand. As Union Sports Minister during the crucial years of 2006-2009, instead of ensuring that CWG preparations were streamlined and ramped up, Mani Shankar Aiyar went in the other direction, stalling and buttressing projects, all the while badmouthing the very notion of India hosting the 2010 CWG. With preparations getting off the blocks in such a ‘suicidal’ manner, it is hardly surprising that things have come to such a pass. Matters could have ‘stabilised’ were it not for the rat maze of multiple responsibilities that were doled out subsequently. Before the 1982 Asian Games, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi placed Rajiv Gandhi in charge of the organisation of the event. One prime reason for its success was that Rajiv Gandhi provided an organisational leadership as well as a single-point window of responsibility and accountability. For the CWG, we’ve had a CWG Organising Committee Chairman Suresh Kalmadi, responsible for management of venues and arrangements for delegates and athletes, passing the baton of blame elsewhere. We’ve had Sports Minister M.S. Gill, Urban Development Minister Jaipal Reddy and Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit playing furious rounds of some racquet sport, even as they have kept assuring everyone that everything’s hunky dory. We even have the PM sending a team to take stock of venues and Games projects.
In a way, the CWG preparations have been a model-scale version of India itself. Tales of success and ambition laid out on a rockbed of medieval infrastructure and the sheer inability to create a new one. The Games will pass in a fortnight and we’ll be the ones staying back. Once the Games are over, let the PM take stock of what went wrong with this years-long project that was supposed to be a proud showcase of India’s capabilities. The least we can demand is that there’s no repetition of this debacle.