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A Pratfall, Mr Kalmadi?

A brick by brittle brick expose on the quagmire of the CWG, and the stupefying audacity of its guiding spirits
Sanjay Rawat
Sellotape Legacy: Delhi And The Commonwealth Games
By Boria Majumdar and Nalin Mehta
HarperCollins | Pages: 304 | Rs: 599

December 1992, the aftermath of Black Sunday, the destruction of the Babri Masjid. Suresh Kalmadi and I, in our regulation white Congress kurta-pyjamas, find ourselves next to each other, jiving with our respective partners under the balmy night sky at what was then Goa’s favourite night spot, The Haystack. An irate local storms up to demand what we are doing dancing when such a terrible calamity has overtaken the nation. Continuing to jive, Kalmadi responds, “We’ve lost the Muslim vote; and we’ve lost the Hindu vote: so, we’re here canvassing the Christian vote!”

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Given his wacky sense of humour, Kalmadi is doubtless chuckling over the latest joke doing the rounds of Delhi’s cocktail circuit: A teacher decides to put her fresh class of 12-year-olds at their ease by asking them to tell the class in turns what their father does. The first girl says, “Doctor”; the second, “Lawyer”; the third, “Journalist”. When it comes to the fourth girl, she hesitates and then, with a little prompting from the teacher, blurts out, “He’s a male stripper in a gay club”. The class gasps. But the teacher bravely struggles on. In the break, the girl’s best friend comes up to her and asks, “Why did you say that?” And the girl replies, “Did you expect me to tell the whole class that he actually works with Kalmadi in the CWG?”

I doubt though that Kalmadi’s sense of humour will extend to Majumdar and Mehta’s blazing expose of what a humongous mess these Commonwealth Games have been. Boria Majumdar, a Rhodes scholar and senior research fellow at both a British and an Australian university, and Nalin Mehta, an honorary fellow at the University of Singapore, both sports buffs with solid backgrounds in their chosen area of specialisation—international sporting events—have produced a thorough, well-researched, sober and absorbingly well-written indictment of Everything You wanted to Know about CWG but were Afraid to Ask, the sub-title I myself would have chosen for this gem of an insight into all the pretensions, hypocrisies, distortions and vulgarisation of national values that have gone into the making of this circus.

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If the aim of the Games was to project the true India of the 21st century on the global stage, Kalmadi’s Organising Committee have certainly fulfilled the objective: for if the world had any doubts, now it knows for certain that we remain the India of jugaad, “that wonderful yet utterly untranslatable word that roughly means a propensity to improvise”.

The Minister of Sports has, of course, made this Punjabi expression a national byword but nothing can hide the ugly truth of Table 1.1, which reveals the horrific costs of jugaad: Operating Expenses escalating from Rs 399 crore in December 2002 to Rs 1,628 crore finally; Commonwealth Youth Games in Kalmadi’s Pune constituency (he won; I didn’t!) catapulting from Rs 300 crore to Rs 678 crore; infrastructure in Delhi zooming from Rs 218.5 crore in December 2002 to Rs 67,185 crore now; security expenses doubling from Rs 155 crore to Rs 277 crore, and still counting; training expenditure on athletes pole-vaulting from Rs 300 crore to Rs 678 crore; and total expenditure soaring like a Sriharikota missile from an initial estimate of Rs 617 crore in December 2002 to an actual outlay of not less than Rs 70,608 crore! “Money is aplenty and everybody wants to be in on the party.”

Yet, with money aplenty—and I suspect because money is aplenty—the delays have been staggering. Table 2.4 sets out the delays (as of May 2009, more than a year ago, and based on cag findings) ranging from eight months for test event strategy to 39 months for the OC’s General Organisation Plan to 54 months for the key, critical OC Master Plan, eventually submitted seven months after I was booted out of Shastri Bhavan. And, yet, Kalmadi thinks I am to blame. O tempora, o mores!

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With actual expenditure running at “114 times the original calculation made in 2002”, contrasting with Melbourne’s total spending on the last Commonwealth Games, 2006, having run “just 0.6 per cent above its estimate”, these Games are certainly going to be the most expensive ever, if not the “best ever” as Kalmadi, with amazing chutzpah, continues to claim.

“The Government of India signed a blank cheque based on shoddy budget estimates made by amateurs who did not seem to know what they were doing.” No, that’s not me as sports minister pleading for good sense in the CWG GoM (although that is exactly what I was doing); it’s Majumdar and Mehta, p 16.

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