CWG isn't 'national pride' vs 'national shame'

By Rajdeep Sardesai
12 August 2010 23:06 IST

Mani Shankar Aiyar has probably not read Dale Carnegie's best-seller, "How to win friends and influence people". A few years ago, in a St Stephens alumni register, former external affairs minister Natwar Singh wrote, "I am what I am because of the college". Prompt came Aiyar's rejoinder: "Why blame the college!"

Politics though is not a college campus. The ready wit and pungent sarcasm which might earn applause in a debating society is deemed as offensive in the real world. Lost in the process is the bank of knowledge that often informs Aiyar's writings and speeches. Which is why when he chose last week to express the hope that the Commonwealth Games would collapse with the rains, there was instant anger at what was deemed as an 'anti-national' remark, especially coming from an MP who is still a member of the ruling party and was sports minister not too long ago.

Ironically, a few days later, the tables have rather dramatically turned. Aiyar is now a chuckling soothsayer, Suresh Kalmadi is seen as a bumbling villain. As a slew of corruption allegations hit the Games, there is almost a self-congratulatory note among the Commonwealth nay-sayers for whom the event is a waste of tax-payers money. That with less than 60 days to go for India's biggest sports competition, there is still a fierce debate over the necessity for it to be held in the first place only confirms our status as the world's premier squabbling democracy. Could anyone imagine a similar debate in china ahead of the Beijing 2008 Olympics?

Unfortunately, the debate itself has been wrongly posited as 'national pride' versus 'national shame'. Tieing up the successful organization of a sports event to 'nationalism' has a distinct Soviet-style ring to it. Cold War Soviet Union could see staging the Moscow Olympics in 1980 as symbolic of their 'superior' ideological system. Communist China perhaps viewed the Beijing Olympics as a 'coming of age' party. Even South Africa, a republic which is still less than two decades old, could view the soccer World cup as an opportunity to parade its credentials as a 'rainbow nation'. But why does a nation with a million year history need a sports spectacle invented by our colonial masters to reaffirm its 'nationhood'? In any case, true sporting nationalism lies in winning medals, not in staging high-profile tamashas.

The Commonwealth debate, therefore, needs to be shorn of the 'Games as nationalism' tag. A high-pitched battle between those who see every stadium leak as a disgrace and those who believe that a beautified national capital will be a source of pride will serve little purpose. Instead, we need to focus on what is really the root of the present controversy: a prevailing culture which is rooted in sloth, corruption and opacity. The Commonwealth Games are not the problem; they are only a symptom of the wider crisis that confronts new India.

In the euphoria over 8 per cent growth, we sometimes forget that we are still ranked a lowly 84th in the transparency international corruption index. When a society is steeped in corruption, it would be unrealistic to expect that a 40,000 crore rupee event will be above it all, especially when its organisational set-up is a hydra-headed monster led by an army of babus and multiple authorities. We may appear surprised that the corruption extends to even the pricing of tissue paper and branded umbrellas, but whoever suggests that corruption only involves million dollar contracts forgets the 500 rupee 'baksheesh' that is still handed out to the policeman who stops you for breaking a traffic signal.

Moreover, the belief that the end of the licence-permit raj would usher in 'transparent' procedures has long since been proven bogus. Instead, it has only bred a form of crony capitalism that revolves around handing out largesse to friends and relatives. Sports has been a particular sufferer in this regard. Every sports federation is run like a mini-empire by warlords and their henchmen, with virtually no checks and balances. Mr Kalmadi has been heading the athletics federation for more than 20 years, the Indian Olympic association for 14 years. In the process, Olympic sport in this country has become Kalmadi's playground, an event like the Commonwealth Games providing the perfect stage for him to distribute patronage to the chosen few.

But why single out Mr Kalmadi? What is the accountability of the government of India whose senior bureaucrats are on various Commonwealth committees? The prime minister appointed a core group of ministers to supervise the games, should they not take some responsibility? The CVC report is a damning indictment of every civic authority in the urban development ministry and Delhi government, should they not be also brought under the scanner?

In a sense, the parallels between the Commonwealth Games and that other sporting circus, the IPL, are uncanny. In the IPL, the sleaze showed up the frailties of corporate India which tried to run the event like a private members club. In the Commonwealth Games, it's the soft underbelly of the Indian state which is being exposed. In the IPL, a single individual, Lalit Modi has been held responsible for the corruption even as the other board and governing council members appear to have got away. In the Commonwealth Games too, the focus seems to be on Kalmadi when it should be on every government department that has benefitted from the bonanza. Maybe, that's why its called the Commonwealth games: the wealth has been commonly shared!

Post-script: question for Mani Shankar Aiyar: how does he reconcile his hatred for mega sports events with the fact that Rajiv Gandhi's original showpiece project was the Asiad 1982? A supplementary question: would Mr Aiyar have shown similar antipathy towards the Commonwealth Games if Rahul Gandhi had been organizing committee chairperson?    

Disclaimer: Views expressed above are the author's own.

Blogger's Profile

Rajdeep Sardesai

One of India’s most respected journalists, Rajdeep Sardesai, has nearly three decades of journalistic experience in print and tv. He has been the founder- editor of chief of IBN 18 network, which included CNN IBN. Prior to setting up the IBN network, he was the managing editor of NDTV 24 x 7 and NDTV India. Rajdeep has won more than 100 national and international awards for journalism, including the Padma Shri in 2008. He is currently consulting editor at the India Today group.

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Previous Comments

Shame on the system and all those who elect such criminals and corrupt to power to loot the Nation!

Pre independence- the foreigners used to loot us -now our own people are looting us!

Shame on the section of the voters who have also been corrupted to vote for money!

- james silva, margao | 12 th September 2010 16:00


shame on this nation and the leaders

- singh, london | 11 th September 2010 17:05


We all know that bureaucrats cannot bulldoze the masters. It is the other way around. We need the Games in order to be in the commity of nations. But extravaganza? No! There are people still starving while rodents make merry. The recent remarks of the noble Supreme Court are commendable in that regard. But I am only wondering. Leaving aside all of India's eminent personalities why do we have politicians heading these committees ? Are they the best managers? One reason is huge amount of money is involved . Any other reasons?

- ludovico, Old-Goa | 17 th August 2010 18:43


In a country where more than forty crore people live in sub human conditions, where the infrastructure facilities like roads, electricity, water supply need far more inputs, where the diseases like malaria dengue caused due to dirty surroundings is a shame for any country and needs funds to eradicate-, hoisting a Balloon costing 60 crores at tax payer's money for CWG is it not a criminal act?

Thousands of farmers are committing suicides every year, allowing extravaganza under the guise of organizing CWG has no justification at all! In fact it is an act which could be very well called anti national,similar to the act of allowing thousands of tonnes of wheat to rot in the open!

When the tax payer's money is spent, it has to be properly accounted. Doling it out without contracts/tenders without proper procedures is also criminal.

The Babus from the Govt of India who are on the various committees are accountable when the tax payer's money is wasted under their nose. Or are they to enjoy the junkets and the wet parties held on the occasion of meetings?

Any way instead of bringing any National Honour, the CWG has served to bring shame to every honest Indian!

- Vishwas Prabhudesai, Loliem-Goa | 17 th August 2010 09:59


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