Games People Play. And an Oktoberfest in Delhi.
Three TV shows in the span of one week on the Commonwealth Games due in October in New Delhi and a lot of posturing on behalf of almost all actors in the case. It seems like logic is returning to haunt us all. But are we missing the point, once again.
So when they call you for a show on NDTV and the topic is the Commonwealth Games [CWG] due in October, you want to go because you have a lot of stuff to belt out. Then they say that the concerned Minister of Delhi will be on the show and you don’t want to miss. Then its one of NDTV’s star anchors, Vikram Chandra on prime time news and you can’t miss. Right. But when the debate turns to be all about the water logging in the city after the first monsoon shower and whether the good government of Delhi will be able to finish off the games in time and pull it off with élan, then you know that the discourse has gone astray already.
What was worse was the anchor gratuitously engaging with the Finance Minister in a sweet exchange for the Minister’s apology to the residents of Delhi for the mess. Obviously, I don’t buy it. The Congress regime has been in power in Delhi for twelve years now. You can’t apologize in the 12th year of your rule for something that happens every bloody year! Truth is Dr. Walia is in the uniquely unfortunate – or on the other hand, the uniquely privileged position, to be the Minister for Finance, Planning and Urban Development in the Government of Delhi – the most potent mix of portfolios anyone can want if he really wanted to fix the problems of the state, or give it a new vision. But vision would be too strong a word for Dr Walia. In fact, vision is anathema to this Congress regime and whatever vision it has concerns building flyovers, which too are now jammed.
State versus Municipality
Things did turn for the better because I got to articulate the fixation of the Delhi Government with the CW Games to the detriment to other civic areas of city management. Just a day before this interview, I spent about three hours in the Municipal Corporation of Delhi [MCD] Office in the Town Hall in Chandni Chowk and had extended interactions first with the Mayor and then the Leader of the House and they informed me that the state was trying to starve the MCD of funds that were rightfully due to them for the last one year under the pretext of financing the CW Games projects. There was some truth in it, but the BJP stalwarts in the Corporation found it an attempt to also show them up poorly. I would not necessarily get into that sort of an issue, but it came to light quickly that safai karamcharis, who are the back bone of the MCD [imagine what would happen if your garbage was not removed everyday] had been on strike because the MCD had no funds to pay their salaries for the last month. The Karamcharis took to the streets, struck work and then in a desperate bid started dumping garbage in the middle of prominent roads of Delhi before the state finally relented. When I brought this to attention, the Minister first refuted my statements and in his very next statement let it slip that they had released the money “yesterday”. Thank you Minister. Will you now also apologize for that slip?
Worse is in store. It came to light that the Delhi government diverted funds meant for reserved categories of the city’s population, namely the scheduled caste and other backward caste communities which have additional budgets for their development and welfare. Something like Rs. 700 crores were diverted in this fiscal from welfare activities for these communities to CW Games project. Councillors of both parties have been crying themselves hoarse in the House that pensioners have not been paid for the last nine months – these are widows who are subsidized by the state and have nothing else to live by – even their payments were kept in abeyance. This madness to focus on the games makes the Government look like a sub-contractor!
Then of course the pious promises of how everything will be hunky dory as soon as – god knows what -and effusive thanks by the anchor to the Minsiter because he apologized! Great! Hell, his apology is an admission of failure and an inability to solve problems. If a man comes in on his first day of job and screws up, he apologizes and we accept because we imagine he will learn and not make the same mistake. That is when an apology applies. Not after ten years of doing the same job. Then you just fire him!
The second episode was a longish programme on the Hindi channel of NDTV and it had the Minister Dr. Walia again along with Dr. Harshvardhan, former President of Delhi BJP and who is a member of the sub-committee created to plan the CW Games when it was first given to India. And there was a spokesperson of the Commonwealth Organizing Committee, someone called Bhanot. Apparently Tarlochan Singh, Rajya Sabha member and a member of the Indian Olympic Association [IOA] headed by Suresh Kalmadi, turned his car around and went back home because it had started raining so heavily. [I myself had to negotiate three fallen trees in the short distance between my office and the NDTV studios in Greater Kailash]. So that sort of set the mood for another rain sequence. If Delhi can’t handle this kind of rain, can we handle the CW Games, became the million dollar question. What kind of a question is that? First, it doesn’t rain in October; then, these are two different things anyway, aren’t they? I mean getting a gradient of a sewer right and organizing an event are not really connected. And so it started pretty much on the same lines and continued along a similar trajectory until things got better and more meaningful as we got around to discussing the organization, management and desirability of the games.
Dr. Harshvardhan rattled off figures and specifics on the shoddy manner in which the games were being planned and paid for, going as far as suggesting there was huge corruption involved in the entire CW Games preparation. Of course Dr Walia tried to negotiate through this double whammy and was rescued occasionally by the belligerent Bhanot who got on my nerves with his self congratulatory tone. I had to pull him up a bit to keep him steady on his tracks – he started sounding like a politician or the official spokesperson for the Delhi government. [Power does strange things to people!] Finally, I got my essential objections listed out and challenged the government to set aside a quarter of the money they are spending on the CW games for Delhi – on Delhi, on the real things that Delhi needs.
The trend that is catching on in the media is somewhat dubious and misleading, for I suspect they are approaching local problems and trying to contextualize it with the CW games only to give the story new angles. I mean this pillorying of the Government over preparation delays et cetera that you now see daily in the newspapers and the electronic media is more like nitpicking. What’s the big deal about delays? It happens everywhere and in all probability the CW Games will be held on schedule and with reasonable success. So what’s this daily debacle stories that they are doing. It is almost as if they are bucking the government up along the side lines to finish the job on time or to do it well. We have become cheerleaders for the CW Games without knowing it, for our point of view should not be that the games are held or held well, but that it’s our money down the drain. Not a single facility created for the CW Games will be of common use of citizens. None of that spend is going to translate into resettling our slum dwellers, improving water and sanitation of the city, subsidizing education or setting up more schools and hospitals or even playgrounds for most of its residents. It’s not about sport at all – it’s about an excuse to spend, because only in this spend is there the opportunity to siphon off. That is where the gargantuan corruption kicks in.
The media has to start asking questions which have a shelf life exceeding the length of day. Why don’t they invest a bit more and dig out why it is important for this Government to repave sidewalks to the tune of Rs. 1000 crores for an 11-day event. Or ask why the same amount of money was not mobilized to strengthen the police force for such a crime ridden city? Who is going to ask those question if their focus is only going to be the day’s rainfall and a few puddles in sight.
The third in this spurt of TV shows came from a channel called News 24, which is not something I have been very familiar with but I was told that Mani Shanakar Aiyar was coming and maybe Suresh Kalmadi would join and so I agreed. I found Dr. Harshvardhan on the show once again, and while Aiyar kept his word, Kalmadi defaulted, as expected. I found the anchor of this show far more involved and interested in the subject and while she did what she had to do in front of the camera, off camera and within intervals she came through as motivated enough to ask the right questions, make the right connections and probe better than anyone else so far.
This show was marked by litigious soliloquies by Mani Shankar Aiyar and who I held in high esteem because he was the only one who raised an objection at the spend of the games, while he was Minister of Sports stating and suggesting variously that the money was better spent on the social sector, that the IOA was a cartel, that Delhi was a mistake as a venue and many other such things although it seemed like he had a personal issue with Kalmadi. But my admiration was unnecessary – it turned out he admired himself so much, I wasn’t even needed. The anchor was guilty of giving him a long rope and his extended historical perspectives on the games left everyone a little jaded. Oh, and Tarlochan Singh made it for this show and did his best to assuage everyone – to little effect of course. Dr Harshvardhan once again led the charge with a battery of assault figures while I provided empirical reasons to argue that the games was a scam in a country which could not feed its hungry or a city which could not house its inhabitants.
From Citizen First to Foreigner First
This rang roghan, or city make up as it were, is also a shameful recognition of our pathetic self image. It takes a confident people to admit who and how they are. But this government wants to put on mascara to woo who? Foreign athletes? Games administrators, officials and coaches? What’s wrong with you. All this spend to make them see us in a better light? It’s not as if they are prospective bridegrooms, or investors! Trying to look good to them? Hey, I say let them see us as we are. And if it is something to be ashamed of, so be it. Better to fix what brings us shame than to cover it up with bamboo curtains to borrow temporary respectability.
But there’s an argument worth looking at here. In spite of the vitriol Mani Shankar Aiyar reserves for the Indian Olympic Association and Kalmadi, it is a fact that the actual component of spend is loaded in favour of the expenditure the city is making on sprucing itself up, and which is outside the essential sports facilities. It can be justified, uselessly perhaps, to spend to spruce up stadia for such an event but I can argue firmly that putting Dholpur stones on the edges of the road or whitewashing Connaught Place to its pristine British glory or erecting carved lamps along the President’s estate on Sardar Patel Marg is hardly of essential importance to the games. Why use the event to blow up tax payer money- and then make them pay more to make up deficits in the treasury. Fact is, if the government of Delhi had merely invested a tuppence in simple maintenance of Connaught Place every year for the last decade, it would not require the Rs 700 Crores [Can you believe that!] to fix the place in the first place.
Besides that, this sham of making us look respectable for foreigners visiting for 11 days reeks of a fraud – on them, for they will not see the Delhi as it really is and the citizens of Delhi for they are being shortchanged with facilities that will do nothing to improve the essential conditions of living in it. Sum total, it is only a spend-fest for the politician-babu cartel and the greater guilt in my opinion is not of the Indian Olympic Association or the Commonwealth organizers, for frankly, that is their brief, but of the state government of Delhi led by a myopic, selfish Chief Minister who is exploiting the situation, and the event, to shore up her image, shape her son’s political future with large scale spending in his East Delhi constituency and share the goodies that this kind of crazy spending brings, with her supporters. That’s like beer and sausages for ten days of fun in early October– any wonder I call it their Oktoberfest!
Some excerpts of the three shows are on this page: they are edited in my favour because of size limits on You Tube: but see if it makes any sense to you and if you want to join issue.