The CWG Aftermath:
Lessons and Challenges
The Commonwealth Games 2010 are finally over. India finished second with 38 gold medals (third in overall medal tally), with Indian women participants contributing nearly 40% of the total medals. This is certainly a high point in the country’s performance in international sporting events, revealing the great potential that can be tapped with appropriate policies and care. The corrupt and inept organizers of CWG 2010 are now trying to bask in this glory achieved by Indian sportspersons, hoping that the country will forget and forgive the huge scams and bungling that made everybody aware of the CWG in the first place. We cannot let that happen.
The UPA government has announced a high-level probe headed by former Comptroller and Auditor General VK Shungloo into various allegations of irregularities concerning the conduct of the Games. Several investigative agencies including the CBI, Central Vigilance Commission, Enforcement Directorate are supposedly already looking into various aspects of the CWG mega scam. The Public Accounts Committee of Parliament, headed by Murli Manohar Joshi of the BJP, is reportedly also ready to table its report regarding the CWG expenses in the forthcoming winter session of Parliament. The report was apparently held back by the BJP till the Games were over, ostensibly to protect ‘national pride’.
There is a strong public opinion in the country that wants responsibility to be fixed for the mammoth CWG mess. But given the maze of scams and the multiplicity of agencies involved in the whole process of organizing and conducting the Games, it is quite possible that the process of investigation will get lost in the bureaucratic labyrinth and the political game of mutual mudslinging and shadowboxing. Already there are signs that the whole thing is being sought to be reduced to a showdown between a Kalmadi and a Dixit or the CWG Organising Committee versus Delhi Government. The government has decades of experience in delaying and diverting such probes and blunting their edge by finding a scapegoat or two. Moreover, the major political parties are all closely involved in the business of running the sports and games show in the country. Pushing the CWG probe to at least some reasonable level of logical conclusion will therefore call for a high degree of sustained civil society activism.
Most disturbing of all is the indication that many of the worst features of the CWG in Delhi are all set to be permanent features of Delhi’s urban development policy. In fact, the CWG was used as a pretext to accomplish a series of anti-poor measures with obscene rapidity. These measures include eviction of slum dwellers; replacement of street vendors and cycle-rickshaws with kiosks and electric-powered ‘e-rickshaws’; ‘view-cutters’ to hide poverty and the poor from view; the institutionalized exploitation and deaths of migrant construction labour that is likely to go completely unpunished; public transport that is rapidly becoming unaffordable for the poor; the shadow of police presence and surveillance on ordinary citizens, especially the poor; urban infrastructure that collapses because of the corruption involved in construction… – it remains to be seen how many of these features of Delhi-during-CWG are here to stay in the days to come.
Students Protest Against CWG ‘View-Cutters’
During the CWG, the Delhi Government had put up massive ‘view-cutters’ to screen off potential ‘eyesores’ from the view of visitors – mostly these ‘eyesores’ were the dwellings of the poor! These view-cutters are an insult to the poor - an attempt to hide the ugly reality of slums which lack sanitary arrangements, basic needs like water and power, as well as proper housing. On 13th October 2010, around 250 students of Jawaharlal Nehru University took out a march from the university to a slum just outside the university in protest against the CWG view cutters placed to the slums from public view.
The students of JNU took their protest march to this slum, formed a human chain and distributed pamphlets among the general public informing them about the dark realities of the Common Wealth Games. The students were also joined by residents of the slums during their protest. Some teachers of JNU also joined the protest. The protest was organized by a variety of left student groups in JNU, with AISA playing a leading role
The CWG debate concerns not just misappropriation or wastage of public funds and bureaucratic inefficiency and bungling, but equally importantly issues related to the sports policy, orientation and priorities of the government. Even after sixty-three years of independence, sports in India remain largely an elitist domain. Yet the bulk of the medals have come from disciplines like wrestling, boxing and weightlifting in which people from rather humble backgrounds have been excelling in event after event. All that is needed is to ensure that more and more people have access to sports facilities from an early age which in turn demands massive decentralization of training facilities and provision of adequate sports scholarships for promising talents. But the government’s obsession with sporting extravaganzas like the CWG 2010 comes precisely at the cost of such a sustained and decentralized thrust on the promotion of sports. It would be instructive to contrast the expenditure on the 1982 Asiad and CWG 2010 to the country’s cumulative total sports budgets since independence.
There are also some striking socio-cultural and socio-economic aspects to the CWG lessons. Many of the medals won by the Indian contingent have been claimed by women participants. And a good number of these women winners are from the Punjab-Haryana belt, notorious for its patriarchal environment and institutionalized discrimination against the female sex, including rampant killing whether in the embryonic stage or in the name of family/caste/clan honour. Then there are tribal women from backward states like Jharkhand who have time and again proved that they can excel in several disciplines like athletics, archery and hockey but are often subjected to the vagaries of migration and deprivation. Improvement in the conditions of women whether in India’s economically advanced states or in backward areas can open up great new vistas in the advancement of sports in India.
Sections of the media have tended to project CWG 2010 as India’s answer to the 2008 Beijing Olympics. But surely the run-up to Beijing 2008 was not marked by the kind of murky scams and bureaucratic mess that became synonymous with the Indian preparation for CWG 2010? And China proved that there is more to national pride than spectacular opening and closing ceremonies, world class urban infrastructure and the hassle-free hosting of mega global events – it was China’s own sporting performance in the Olympics which put China on top of the world. India did put up a much improved sporting performance, but still has miles to go on every count, and the reason must not be sought only within the sporting arena for it lies first of all in the poor quality of India’s social indicators.
The 2010 Global Hunger Index released recently by the International Food Policy Research Institute gives us one crucial clue. Among 84 countries ranked on the basis of three leading indicators – prevalence of child malnutrition, rate of child mortality, and the proportion of people who are calorie deficient – India was found to be lagging at the 67th place, way behind the 9th position held by China. Among India’s other neighbours only Bangladesh has a worse rank (68th) while Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Nepal are all placed significantly ahead of India at 39th, 52nd and 56th position respectively. In spite of a bigger population, China can still boast of a strong baseline and much better facilities and greater access for its vast human resources, even though the current policy regime of China has clearly led to greater income and regional disparities in the country.
If the aftermath of CWG 2010 witnesses a focused public debate on the orientation and priorities of India’s sports policy and the wider social environment obtaining in the country, we can at least have the satisfaction of deriving a healthy byproduct from an eminently avoidable and wasteful extravaganza.