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Analysis: Why the CWG has gone horribly wrong

By Sheela Bhatt
Last updated on: September 23, 2010 13:45 IST
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In the current sordid saga, it is not the Indian people who have failed. It is India's political leaders who have let down the people, unforgivably, says Sheela Bhatt.

For the past fortnight people living in South Delhi's residential areas of Jangpura, Nizamuddin and in and around the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium were fearful of passing under the foot over-bridge under construction to ferry athletes from the Games Village to the stadium. 

This is a new low for India. A bridge is coming up and people distrust their local government, engineers and city planners so much that their heartbeats increase every time they pass under a just-raised-structure.

The Commonwealth Games are not a national shame -- they are worse. It gives sinking feeling similar to a defeat in a war.

The reasons are many. The CWG was about life in new India. It was about urban planning and 'just' land allotment. It was about wisdom and ethics of spending of public money. It was about national spirit. It was about India's standing among former British colonies. It was about telling 71 countries how and why India counts. It was about sports and India's youth.

In the current sordid saga, it's important to distinguish between the Indian people and its leaders. India has not failed and it is unlikely to fail. It is India's political leaders who have failed the people, unforgivably.

The CWG gloom is visible all over India. But, we must, quickly, add that it is not because a dozen westerners, including CWG federation CEO Mike Hooper, are saying few harsh things about the living arrangements. You can easily bet that those officers and athletes who will arrive in India from Thursday onwards will get royal treatment reminiscent of old, colourful, warm, feudal India. The warmth of young smart volunteers and poor workers and helpers will make them calm and safe.

But it is advisable for them to not watch television, which shows 42 times a day a small patch of ceiling falling somewhere. Obviously, Hooper and company's statements are not pure fact. Their facts are wrapped with their biases too. The sports authorities from western countries are rich and powerful in their respective societies and one has seen their pressure on the Chinese government. They raised a disproportionate alarm over Beijing's air and noise pollution just before the Olympics.

But, internally, the issue is not about stray dogs roaming in and around the Games Village. 

The negative publicity and whatever muck is being raised against the CWG is due to the lack of ethical political leadership in the country. Increasingly, Indian politicians are becoming careerists. That's the basic malaise behind the current gloom all over the Indian landscape. Indian leaders lack the courage to take up issues in the national interest. Take any issue -- Kashmir, Ayodhya, price rise or the Maoist insurgency. It's either failure of leadership or lack of governance or both.

The CWG caught the people's attention when the Organising Committee and its head Suresh Kalmadi were named in a damaging report by the Comptroller Auditor General. The first thing that percolated to the people was that the CWG was a massive no-holds-barred money-making exercise.

You don't even need the CAG to tell you that CWG was synonymous with corruption. For upgradation of the JNS, Delhi, the government led by Sheila Dixit and the Jaipal Reddy-led Group of Ministers (who were overseeing the CWG planning and execution) approved spending Rs 900 crore. One understood that this was a vulgar show. But even this is not shocking news in India where corrupt people win in election after election. But inspite of huge corruption when people saw that delivery is absent, the frustration peaked.

Kalmadi became the face of what all that has gone wrong but one must mention Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dixit who must face public scrutiny once the Games are over. A powerful Congress leader told, "Three years back, whenever we met Dixit she would tell us curtly she doesn't have time for anything else because she is solely focussing on the CWG. Where is the focus? What has she done?"

The issue that should be remembered while debating the scandals in construction and execution of CWG is that 30 months back, the government authorities and media had reviewed the progress and expressed apprehension that India may not be able to complete the venues on time. 

Before the general election of 2009, Rahul Gandhi's popularity was ascending. He was going to home of Kalawatis and other Dalits as well as many college campuses around India. He was rediscovering India and searching for suitable issues.

Then, had asked two senior members of the Congress Working Committee why Rahul Gandhi was not taking up the leadership of CWG as his father Rajiv Gandhi, who provided leadership to the Asian Games in 1982? It would have helped the country and would have helped Rahul launch himself as an efficient administrator.

The response from the two leaders was similar. They said that CWG was much behind schedule and in a mess. Kalamadi's control over the OC was total and he was difficult to replace. The senior leaders also said that "it's risky to jeopardise Rahul Gandhi's prestige by providing leadership to the CWG."

In the 21st century, top leaders, CEOs, and supreme authorities plan their leadership and evolvement on the basis of the formula of minimise risks and maximise profits. Karma starts only after a careful assessment of the end result. Passion is manufactured for the public cause on the basis of the probability of its success. This is the kind of approach by careerists that has left the nation without leadership. There are issues after issues, which are searching for saviours and leadership.

One doesn't know what Rahul Gandhi's views were then. He had a great opportunity to reenergise the CWG preparations, put it on track and showcase the success as a semi-final to his forays in providing leadership to country's bigger and more complex issues.

Three years back there was enough time and opportunity to repair things and save the event and enhance the country's prestige. But no leader from the Congress including Rahul Gandhi put his neck out to risk his or her prestige to save the country's pride.

On September 21, one of the top leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party said in an off-the-record conversation with select media-persons, "It is sad to see that in my party, the top leaders are not taking up issues if it doesn't fit into their personal career graphs. Party main sab apni career banane ke liye kaam karte hai. (people are working to enhance their careers). They are not working to provide leadership on issues."

Take any leader in the country. They don't give time, energy, attention, money or any resources to the issues that don't give votes, that don't consolidate their personal image.

The BJP leader was complaining about the highly-popular Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley who pick and choose issues to provide leadership. The final success is more important in lending leadership not the seriousness or urgency of national issues.

Since the established leaders have their agenda which is quite different from that the nation is craving for, the result is dangerous.

How can one forget the widespread and old disease of the senior leadership failing in selecting right team leaders for the right jobs? The most common  trend that one sees all over is of the wrong people encroaching the right places (think M S Gill and Kalmadi) and inefficient people providing leadership to important tasks (think Lalit Bhanot). It is a recipe for disaster.

The vital question is, three years back, why did Congress President Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh remain silent spectators to what was happening or not happening to the CWG's Rs 25,000 crore mega plans under the leadership of Dixit?

Seen retrospectively, India leaders lacked the audacity of hope. 

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Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi