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Delhi: The games people play

The views in this article have been expressed in the author’s private capacity

The debacle surrounding India’s competency to host the Commonwealth Games begs two “tricky” questions. Firstly, is there still a place in today’s world for the Commonwealth? And secondly, what was India thinking bidding for the Games? My views on each follow.

Is there still a place in today’s world for the Commonwealth?

There are times when the chickens come home to roost and the world is cleared of its dogmas. Could this be one of those times? Could the woes of the Delhi Commonwealth Games be a wake-up call for us to question the relevance of this institution? What indeed is the Commonwealth? And do the member countries still have anything in common? Or is it now just a dated legacy of the
British Empire? In my view, it is an organisation whose sole objective is to maintain a fragile link across the ex-colonies and act as its custodian; thereby drawing some obscure form of control and authority for the once mighty empire. But surely its mandate to seek any cooperation across nations is tenuous and largely irrelevant in today’s world. Yet it continues with its meetings and its deliberations. A macabre form of trip down memory lane to make sure they still toe the line and pledge their allegiance to the British monarchy and its most potent visible form appears to be the Commonwealth Games. An event which even the Queen of England, as its chief patron, expressed her unavailability to attend.

The nations participating seem to have a point to prove; that is to show who among the “siblings” has actually prospered. But no one is asking: what exactly are we trying to prove?

But then many a lesser deed has been done at the altar of human ego and misplaced nostalgia, so why blame this particular dinosaur? And if the truth be told; the event and its paraphernalia would have passed unnoticed quietly if it had not been for the added complication this time around of India actually being cast in the unfamiliar role of its main actor as the host country.

What was India thinking bidding for the Games?

What were the high priests of India Incorporated thinking when they chose to bid for this? Would it not have been a far better objective to actually focus on the more boring issues of poverty, malnutrition, infant mortality and be on a war footing with the mundane but real aspects of providing food, shelter and clothing to some, if the world’s poorest?

India was home to one of the world’s ancient civilisations. It then became a “jewel in the crown” for the empire for which the sun never set and made the Crown revel in its grandeur and extravagance. And now that same country, after half a century of neglect and decay post independence, is hailed as a 21st century miracle as the “most promising new market”.

But India is also home to more than a billion people, half of whom are the world’s poorest of the poor. It is a country where the masses cannot take the joys of uninterrupted clean water supply, stable sanitation and steady electricity for granted.

It’s the same place where the opulence of its oligarchs and nouveau riche cannot hide the despair of its peasants. It is that self-same country which is taking away jobs from the mighty US but cannot keep its own farmers from committing suicide by the dozens just because their crops failed in one particular year.

Yes, that is where the “common” wealth games are going to be held in a few days time. Forget the common man and forget the fact that wealth is only for a privileged few in that ancient nation of rickety infrastructure, shaky government, broken promises and hidden agendas.

India wishes to join the big league — it is a nuclear power aiming to also become an economic power and the Games were to be its showpiece event. The adulation and adoration it regularly receives for its economic policies, its democratic ideals and its commitment to fight global terrorism on the side of the good is unprecedented and unrestrained.

Today India has fought hard to be recognised and respected on the world stage of powerful nations as a country of standing. Yet in its fight to belong, it seems to have forgotten its own priorities.

Its elite is thriving in a heady mixture of global attention and premature euphoria and its leadership believe in its own populist rhetoric.

The fact remains that India has miles to go and mountains to climb before it can come anywhere close to being a nation that can claim greatness from the point of view that matters most — its people and the conditions under which more than half the population live. Centuries of nepotism and feudal rule have created a nation which is rich in its diversity but pathetic in its ability to focus as a homogeneous nation.

Great events, particularly of the sporting variety, are usually the crowning glory for great victories and great achievements and reserved for great powers to flaunt at their will. To even contemplate such an act when all India has shown thus far is promise and potential is at the very best an act of bravado and naivety and at the very worst an act of impudence and arrogance.

Predictably therefore, the Games have become a “game” for all. The media-led frenzy to discover the real truth behind the “games people play” has created a hotbed for domestic politics to score points off each other.

In the midst of such mindless hype and brow beating, the true victim — the common man — remains blissfully untouched and unaffected by the acts perpetrated by people in possession of such uncommon wealth already. But then who cares about them? The world loves India and dares not say anything contrary to the greater objectives of placating a super-power in the making or even remotely suggesting that India should never have been the host in the first place.

Already, after the initial onslaught from the irate media, it is interesting to see how increasingly better behaved their tirade has been the past few days. There have even been a few chosen quotes appearing from the milder mannered or downright compliant foreign delegates, which suggests that all is and will indeed be well at the Games.

Thus Band-Aids will be put where paint was to be, Sellotape will be stuck where concrete was to be and rubber bands will be tied where steel was to be. The Games will happen, albeit in the absence of its chief patron, the Queen.

Once they finish, those half-finished edifices of sporting pursuits will remain as stark testimonies of human greed, avarice and incompetence. India will yet again earn its stripes of being the masters of chaos and the real game of self-gratification and appeasement will continue post the games.

A gagged media will wax lyrical about India’s prowess and political leaders will queue up to receive the nation’s and indeed the world’s applause and feel vindicated. And the man on the street will gape and wonder — why was this needed and where did it get us?

But then maybe this is far too cynical in its thinking. Maybe all this is nothing but a very well-orchestrated Indian rope trick designed to scare and awe.

After all, the poor Indian athletes have grown on a far more modest diet of self-sacrifice and humble facilities while officials have enjoyed the perks of high office. So the Games village and its inadequacies can only serve to level the playing fields as the rustic efforts of the Indians can now match and hold their own with their more sophisticated foreign counterparts who are used to better tools and facilities.

Not too many from the Indian contingent will worry too much about leaking roofs, slippery floors and broken beds but they could make a few visitors perish in their quest for sporting excellence.

Who said India doesn’t do enough for its brave sportsmen and women? Here is evidence that no trick in the book is beyond those eagle-eyed, poker-faced, hungry bureaucrats to ensure that their countrymen do get some old-fashioned “home” advantage.

After all, a billion plus clever people can’t but have a method to their madness, right?