Mahesh Vijapurkar urges sports persons to stand up and show contempt for the poor standards that appear the benchmark of the Commonwealth Games.
Much has been said on the Commonwealth Games (CWG), much dirty linen has been washed, much of the stain remains and I think it is time to pitch in with my pennyworth of thought. After all, it is the moment when the push has come to the shove, and a tonne of bricks has fallen around every Indian's ears.
There seems to be much merit in the suggestion, first flagged off by Chetan Bhagat the writer, that Indians should boycott the CWG because of the stigmatised status of that event. Given the Indian propensity of 'anything is ok' -- saab chaltaa hai -- it is normal for the sports minister, MS Gill, to take comfort in the fact that like in an Indian wedding, everything would fall in place by the time the moment arrives. One wishes it were easy to accept that without having to compromise on values. But when he was the Chief Election Commissioner, he was loath to accept such explanations.
My main grouse is that all would have been hunky-dory in terms of perceptions had the financial skulduggery had not surfaced. Everyone would have assumed that the usual sloth of the contractors, the poor monitoring capability of the officialdom were the reasons behind the delayed process, including the sporting venues not being ready on time, the streets of Delhi being littered with debris and the general penchant of Indians for crisis management. That is, we Indians know how to push things to a precipice and then retrieve it and then pat ourselves on the back.
This time, it just won't do. Because, had it not been for the British vigilance and picking up of the threads that led to such a stink in India -- ably supported by the feisty media which refused to pull the punches -- we would all have been blissfully unaware of the sordid financial doings that seems to be the main purpose of games, not the athletes taking to the tracks and the arenas, as if it was incidental to the whole enterprise. None thought of the gold and silvers and bronzes to be won by the host country. Just no effort was visible in that direction and the plan was the contractors' delight -- nothing more, nothing less.
Now, the raison d'etre should shift. From sports to a battle against corruption, from acceptance of mealy-mouthed explanations by men who know only to swagger to a trenchant demand for corrections, even it means abandonment of the CWG this time around. That alone would raise the bar of the ever-falling standards of probity in public life. For, if we allow this moment to pass, the country will continue to suffer poverty of quality and public accountability.
Indians should refuse to buy tickets to go and witness the events in shoddy stadia, and if they have the guts, the Indian corporate world which seeks a cleaner, reformed government -- difficult for them to hold up the candle, but no harm in hoping, is there? -- should refuse to buy commercial advertisement time on television networks which telecasts the Games. At least, not buy spots on programmes relating to the CWGs. They should only remain polite to tourists who arrive to witness the Games and return with poor memories of a lousy tune by AR Rahman -- sorry, gentleman, what you turned up with was not what an Oscar winner was expected to come up. That stuff is, naturally, reflective of the poor standards that appear the benchmark of the CWG.
The moment is valuable for the Indian people because we are in the spotlight, unfortunately, for the poor preparations. This is the moment to seize upon and tell the organisers and the government that we, the taxpaying citizens, no more care for this kind of nonsense and bring them to heel in the full glare. Let the world see the stands bereft of any Indians and Indian athletes and players. Let the Indian sports person use this opportunity to show their contempt for the grabby Indian sports-related officialdom which has always dealt with shoddily with sportspersons. Remember the poor facilities for women hockey players? They have suffered enough humiliations.This is the moment for the worm to turn.
This perception which I share publicly with others is not in the least anti-Indian but a service to the country for here and now, we should resolve to end this misuse of public funds. Poor use is as bad as misuse, make no mistake about it. There are a host of other things which show India in poor light -- the high rank in custodial deaths, letting food grains rot when poor go hungry or wait for being cheated under the employment guarantee programmes, horrific public toilets, schools without playgrounds, road with craters, not pot holes, which cannot withstand a single monsoon. This list can go on and on but you would have got the point.
The message has to go out loud and clear, else, post the CWG, everything will be back to normal, the guilty will escape with the loot, the government will go after only the small fish, there will by any amount of obfuscation, and then typically, 'all will be well, business as usual'. That has to be averted by standing up and saying no to the Games, for our future quality of governance will depend on that.
Or else, it will be the same carnival of the rascals.
I for one would not like to leave Chetan Bhagat hold the placard alone. I am with him, all the way. Those who think likewise, and not abandon everything in this country to the vagaries and whims of the rent-seekers who have sabotaged democracy for personal pelf, where the people matter only when the votes have to be sought and when money meant for them grabbed with greedy hands, may start sending text messages, post their opinions on Facebook and Orkut and other networking sights and stand up and be an Indian. And clean up the system.
I would not like to be left wanting in this enterprise towards a major course correction for even the upright prime minister has failed us; he could have sacrificed the Games for enforcing honesty, but baulked.
Mahesh Vijapurkar is a Thane-based commentator on public affairs.