The humiliating embarrassment faced by us due to the unsatisfactory state of preparations for the Commonwealth Games (CWG) starting on October 3 could be attributed to the failure of the political leadership to realise the importance of well-conducted CWG from the point of view of our national pride and image; corruption and cronyism; a casual approach to the preparations; lack of supervision at all levels; the national inability to stick to time-schedules; over-confidence; and denial of the existence of serious problems when those problems were exposed by the media.
When Beijing was chosen as the host of the 2008 Olympics and Guangzhou as the host of the 2010 Asian Games being held in November, the Communist Party of China and their government saw it as an opportunity to show-case China and its organising skills to the world and to convince the world that China has arrived as a major power. The self-confidence gained by the Party and the government as a result of the spectacular success of the Olympics is partly behind China's increasing assertiveness in the world stage after the Olympics. All sections of the Chinese civil society and government worked together with total dedication to demonstrate that China can do it. And China did it.
In India, the political leadership and the government totally failed to grasp the political significance of New Delhi being chosen to host the CWG. The world, which has been keenly watching the competition for regional leadership between India and China, wanted India to be given an opportunity to show that what China can do, it can do equally well, if not better. Let there be no mistake about it. The good wishes of the democratic world were with India. It wanted India to make a success of the CWG and would have helped India in any way it could to make a success of it.
The political significance of the CWG from the point of view of our national stature, pride and image was not grasped in time by the political leadership. The CWG was treated by the political leadership as one more mega sports event to be handled by the Organising Committee with the help of the Delhi government. It failed to look upon it as a national task requiring the active involvement of the government of India. Only in the last few days the political importance of the Games as image-builder and projector has been realised by the government of Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh and it has been moving heaven and earth to make the CWG a success even at this late hour. Even if we succeed, it will not erase from the minds of the international community and our own citizens the extreme embarrassment and humiliation that we had to face due to the images of a "Filthy and Incompetent India" and not a "Shining and Leading India" that were transmitted across the world. What we saw was not "Chindia In Action" with China and India in a friendly competition to project to the world the best in each of them, but "India In Inaction" like a python after a heavy meal.
The government of India left everything in the hands of the Organising Committee, which was packed with people without a sense of pride. If they had national pride, they would not have allowed corruption and cronyism take hold of the Committee and come in the way of timely and effective preparations. The Committee projected to the outside world not only the image of a "Filthy and Incompetent India", but also a "Corrupt India" for whose political and bureaucratic class acquiring money by hook or by crook was more important than preserving national honour.
The preparations were politicised. The head of the Organising Committee and of the Delhi Administration were both blue-eyed individuals of the ruling Congress (I). For the Congress (I), they can do no wrong. The Congress party and its government failed to take notice of even the most serious allegations being made against them. Even today after all the national humiliation and embarrassment, the government and the Congress (I) are not prepared to act against them. They have been marginalised, but an exercise is on to preserve their honour despite their misdeeds and failures.
Many national deficiencies, which have become part of our psyche, made matters worse. The Organising Committee had about seven years to prepare for the Games. It did nothing for nearly four years and stirred itself up only after much time had been wasted. There was a plethora of organizations to attend to various aspects of the preparations, but no co-ordination among them. The government failed to appoint a high-power apex body to co-ordinate as Indira Gandhi had done to make a success of the 1982 Asian Games. She did not see the Asian Games purely as a sports event. She also saw it as an event which could make or mar India’s prestige if not properly managed. She was not interested in how many medals India would win. She was interested in ensuring that the Games were conducted with clock-like precision without worrying about who won and who lost.
Despite the late start of the preparations for the CWG and despite serious failures to adhere to time schedules, an over-confident Organising Committee sought to give the impression that like the proverbial tortoise, Indians would somehow make a last-minute dash and make the Games a resounding success. Their over-confidence might prove misplaced.
The supervision, as always it happens, was shoddy. The impressive Games Village was completed in time, but many of the apartments were apparently left unlocked and unguarded. The bathrooms were misused by strangers making them filthy. One does not seem to have realized the serious security implications of leaving the apartments unlocked and unguarded.
For the annual Republic Day parade, we hold rehearsals every alternate day for two weeks so that everybody is familiar with his or her security duties and the participants in the parade gain confidence. It is stated that China, which does not face a serious problem of terrorism in Beijing, started holding rehearsals of the opening and closing ceremonies and the security drill six months before the Games. It initiated many security measures like bans on the sale and carriage of substances such as nitrogenous fertilizers which could be used as explosives a month before the Games.
There are five days to go before the Games and we are yet to hold a single comprehensive rehearsal. Our over-confidence is not only in respect of administrative matters, but also security matters. We are supremely confident that we will be able to prevent any security breaches. Most probably, we will, but we are taking unnecessary risks by not following in a timely manner the drill necessary for such events.
Once the Games are over --hopefully successfully-- the government should hold a detailed enquiry into the sins of commission and omission and take corrective measures to ensure that such deficiencies are not repeated in future.
B. Raman is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies.
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