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Will CWG failure be Manmohan Singh's legacy?

By M K Bhadrakumar
Last updated on: September 23, 2010 21:04 IST
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From this point it really doesn't matter whether Sheila Dixit or Suresh Kalmadi retain their jobs or M S Gill and Jaipal Reddy must also bear equal responsibility. The damage has been done, says M K Bhadrakumar.

Seldom would a press conference have provoked such a range of mixed emotions as the one on Monday by the Commonwealth Games Federation chief Mike Hooper.

Surely, the first burst of emotion was anger when Hooper with a smirk on his face used the word 'filthy' to describe the physical conditions in the Games Village. Ask Aziz in E M Forster's Passage to India, I'm sure he would agree.

Hooper looked well-fed, well-rested. No signs of fatigue or stress on his content, rotund face when the world around him is threatening to crash down. Actually, he looked so completely pleased with himself and life.

Look at the bizarre moment. After having being looked after so exceedingly well by Suresh Kalmadi & Co for three full years at a stretch, he turns around and gives them one whack when it is about getting time to take leave of India.

Hooper simply washed his hands off the Games preparation. Was he on vacation all these three years? There is no way he can avoid sharing Suresh Kalmadi's responsibility. As any other Westerner would say in such a dramatic moment, it is a moral issue.

What passed through my mind was disgust over Hooper's act of distancing himself from the royal mess-up that the Games have become. But then, as Hooper's performance began to sink in, a range of new, unfamiliar passions began creeping up from the attic of the mind.

First, what a screw-up it has been by the National Democratic Alliance government when it courted this dubious honour of hosting the games as a sublimating moment of cultural nationalism! They should have known their country's limitations. We no longer live in the Vedic age.

For today's right-wing warmongers who talk of 'cold start' and simultaneous wars on two fronts, too, this must come as a moment of truth about the 'real India'. A country that knows not its limitations (and strength) would wander into perils.

But then, why blame the NDA government, which is already distant history? Besides, for them it was at least about a heart-felt ideology. To be fair, they are not part of the stinking corruption that apparently surrounds the Games' preparation. When racketeers use the petard of ideology to make money, it becomes sheer political cynicism.

The irony is that at the end of the day, the Games are threatening to become Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's political legacy. A prime minister who set such admirably high standards of personal integrity in public life all through is facing the distressing -- almost tragic -- prospect of inheriting the legacy of having presided over, arguably, one of the most scandalous periods in the history of this walled city.

From this point it really doesn't matter whether Sheila Dixit retains her job or M S Gill and Jaipal Reddy must also bear equal responsibility, or even whether the indefatigable Kalmadi will ever again get anywhere near securing yet another plum assignment as a servant of sports. The damage has been done.

Let us sit upon the ground and draw comfort that nothing is really lost. Mother India is much, much bigger than the sum total of our political class.

However, such moments also become occasions for calm reflection. Even if Dixit and Kalmadi had done a first-rate job, would it really have mattered? Would they have enhanced India's reputation in the world community? A leading Indian daily screamed that the Games have become 'India's shame'. Really? Think over carefully.

Indeed, these are futile vanities. Let us not lose our sense of proportions. Hitler's Germany collapsed within nine years of hosting the extraordinary pageant of the Berlin Olympics. The Soviet Union disintegrated within 12 years of the Moscow Olympics.

In fact, it makes one somewhat uneasy in such moments in history when the political elite equates pageantry with national glory.

Remember the lavish pageantry in the Tent City of Persepolis in 1971 (in yet another balmy October) to celebrate the 2500th anniversary of the founding of the Iranian monarchy by Cyrus the Great? Shah Reza Pahlavi fled Iran in January 1979 and the royal regime came down like a pack of cards.

Was a Rs 40,000 crore pageantry really needed to impress upon the world the wonder that is India? This is the tricky question that the Indian political elites must answer.

Dixit says the Games are a boon for Delhi's 'development'. That is sheer baloney. Development means much more than pouring concrete and asphalt from high-speed mixers onto roads and pedestrian sidewalks.

At any rate, all those 'infrastructural facilities' that Delhi may be blessed with -- flyovers, public urinals, pedestrian crossings, flower beds, neon lighting and so on -- could still have been ours (and much more, too) without the Games. Metro Sreedharan does it all the time for Delhiites -- rain or sunshine, Games or no Games. And he even makes it all seem so very routine. No fuss, no limelight, no corruption.

Besides, why should Rs 40,000 crores have been exclusively Delhi's privilege? There is no dearth of legitimate claimants for such good money in 'real India'. Just step outside Delhi. One can see millions of most genuine claimants. What has happened in the name of 'development' is an act of sin.

Indeed, some say the overflowing Yamuna, like the Biblical Flood, is actually the wrath of God -- retribution for an appalling act of evil perpetrated by the Delhi elites on its ancient banks by building swanky apartment blocs for the exclusive living zone for our crorepatis. We will never know if this is truly so. Strange are the ways of God.

But one thing we can say with near certainty. India's passage to the high table on the world stage is not going to be easy. The western world will play rough to humiliate us, to intimidate us, to break our self-confidence. Ask China, they went through the same angst in the run up to the Beijing Olympics: it was about China's environment, the ancient city's filthy air.

Come to think of it, is "filth" an alien phenomenon in, say, England? On any weekend, Hooper could as well have seen people urinating on the street walks in Birmingham or Liverpool as they stumbled out of the pubs.

Filth is the whole point. It is a metaphor. Like a western ambassador once confided to me in hush-hush tone why Turkey can never be admitted to the European Union. He said Turks are filthy.

Some food for thought, too, for our strategic thinkers who already seem to fancy that India's tryst with destiny is with the Euro-Atlantic community.

It is useful for them to know we are what we are and we belong to our region where stray dogs wander into our compounds, toilets smell and corridors invariably have litter. All those Scots, Englishmen, Canadians and New Zealanders who came to pass judgment on the Games Village -- they belong to another world. A world where dogs are so well-mannered that they never shit! 

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M K Bhadrakumar