India’s Commonwealth Ordeal


Debidatta Aurobinda Mahapatra – TRANSCEND Media Service

Apart from Kashmir, which keeps India in international light in recent days is its preparation for the Commonwealth games in Delhi to be commenced from 3 to 14 October 2010. The event, the first ever in India and perhaps the first showcase of India’s emerging prowess in the evolving world, will likely involve 8,500 athletes from 71 countries competing in 17 events. India reportedly has already spent INR 77 billion (about $1.8 billion) for the preparation of the games. In fact any cursory glance at the newspapers of India since the mid of this year will confirm the viewpoint how the media agencies have gone gung-ho in highlighting myriad discrepancies in organization of the games. However, the role of some of the international agencies too has come to light in the context of their collusion with some Indian officials. The coming days will be really trying for the Indian government, and more importantly for the Brand India as the whole world will be judging India’s prowess in organizing the games.

The concept of Commonwealth of Nations, earlier known as British Commonwealth, can be defined as a kind of residue, if one interprets in a general sense, of British imperialism which ended in the 20th century. The countries which were under the British rule formed part of the loose federation of the Commonwealth, with the British Monarch as its Head. Hence, the baton relay for the 19th Commonwealth games started from London, when it was handed over by the Queen Elizabeth to President Pratibha Patil of India, the host country. India’s membership was opposed by some of the Indian leaders who viewed the organization as a vestige of British imperialism. Then Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru had supported the idea as it is ‘friendship based on freewill, to be terminated by freewill.’

The Commonwealth games under the same banner started in 1978, though it was organized much earlier in different names. The 19th Commonwealth games to be commenced in Delhi have been subject to harsh criticism both at home and abroad. It seems as if India is at fault at every step in organizing the game. However, it will be absolutely foolish not to lay blame at India’s door. India’s official agency Central Vigilance Commission in its inspection of sporting venues and roadway projects has reported massive corruption in the organization of the game such as in the building of the stadiums, roads to venues, etc. Impartial analysts ask why India crossed the deadline in completing the games preparation at least twice, though it won the bid to organize the game many years back in 2003. The Chairman of the Indian Olympics Committee has been brought to severe criticism for his mismanagement of the game preparation, particularly after the coming to light of the financial mismanagement during the torch handing over ceremony in London in October 2010. An opinion poll conducted by one of India’s leading news dailies, the Times of India, brings to picture how about 73 per cent of people who voted in the poll make the Chairman responsible for the mismanagement. As per the poll, 97 per cent of the respondents believed that the government of India and the local Delhi government have tarnished the image of the country over the preparation of the games to be held within less than ten days.

More than immediate success or failure of the Commonwealth games, what is more important is the image which India has been building for itself, or at least portraying as an emerging Asian power. No doubt, India’s economy has shown steady growth even in the years of global financial crisis, but the poor management of games brings forth the shoddy picture the lack of skill, effective management, urgency and effective utilization of time. Instead of making over of past mistakes, there seems to be blame game between different agencies ensuing. Now the boast of some of organizers that the games will be managed very successfully, appears far fetched. All the messy things behind the Commonwealth games have much dented the Indian psyche including much boasted assertion that India is emerging enough to display its acumen and skill in organizing the games.

There also appears to be more blame game than the actual preparation of the games. Some of the observers of the participating countries have described the games village filthy and unsuitable for human occupation. Some other observers have raised objections over the preparation of the games venues. In fact it was an Australian firm, named Peddle Thorpe, which built some of the venues for the games. Hence, it will be prudent for the organizers to cooperate and manage successfully the game. Equally importantly, and understandably, all the fears of the players regarding their security and health must be addressed swiftly. The terrorist attack on a tourist bus in New Delhi on 20 September has already raised the apprehensions of participating countries about the security of their players. There is a possibility that the terrorist organizations like Lashkar-e-Toiba will target the sporting events to further create trouble for India and bring it disrepute. Hence, it may not be a surprise that some of the well known athletes have declared their withdrawal from the game. Though India has arranged four layered security plan for the players, it has still not assuaged the fear of the some of the participating countries and their players. The plan involving 80,000 police personnel, 17,500 paramilitary personnel, 3,000 commandos and 100 anti-sabotage check teams aims to use snipers on rooftops, commando hit teams and expert groups to tackle any chemical, biological, radio-active or nuclear attacks.

It is true that there are shortcomings emerging in the surface with each passing day. The Prime Minister of India at a later stage has expressed keen interest in the smooth organization of the games by overcoming the shortcomings expeditiously. But the shortcomings when combined with panic; it becomes almost a hopeless situation. In fact it is some sections of media, and some of the participating countries, have made much of hullabaloo about the games and the preparations. The Canadian, Scottish and New Zealand teams have delayed their departures to India. Needless to emphasize, the surge or downfall of India’s prestige world wide as a successful and responsible organizer of large games, indicating its rising prowess, will significantly depend on how the games are conducted in the coming days. It is a kind of test, which India, particularly its leaders confront.


Dr Debidatta Aurobinda Mahapatra is part of the research faculty at the Centre for Central Eurasian Studies, University of Mumbai, India.


This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 27 Sep 2010.

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