Whose games are these?

Whose games are these?

Beyond the pomp

Whose games are these?

A chasm of unfinished business lies between idea and execution and in the end, very  little separates pride from shame, success from failure. The Commonwealth Games were meant to cement the presence of India on the map as a world-class sporting nation and it is not that  we needed to prove a point to anyone because India’s strength has never been in keeping up with the Joneses.

Despite our squalor, our teeming billions, our dispossessed and our poverty, we have progressed beyond expectations in certain areas. We are unique because we are a nation of glaring contradictions and we are fine with it. We are not this reality or that. We are rich and poor. A nation of sky scrappers and slums. And as we straddle both extremes, it is important to remember that both realities are not and should not be mutually exclusive. The question today is not whether India should have opted to host the games. We pulled off the Asian games, remember? The question is whether we should be pretending that we are only a nation of clean-swept roads with no vendors and beggars in sight.  Why should we pretend to be anything we are not just to host a sporting event?

Losing livelihoods

What we needed were genuine measures to fix what was lacking in terms of infrastructure so that when the games were over, successive generations  of Indians would have benefited from it. The preparations could have been for the long-term benefit of everyone and not just foreign athletes for whom, ordinary citizens are being inconvenienced. When a politician  loudly proclaims that he will “get the hell out of the city” as he does not want to “witness the games,” he may well have the luxury of doing so. Unlike this most vocal critic of the messy way in which the Commonwealth Games are being conducted in Delhi in October, there are several thousands who will have to silently suffer the hardships that the Games have foisted upon them.  Some are even  in the danger of losing their livelihoods.

Whether the Games will succeed in building our image or destroying it internationally, remains to be seen but as of now, the dust surrounding it, is persistently flying and is refusing to settle. Corruption, deadline delays, incompletionof required infrastructure and botched up civic facilities  have become fodder for drawing room and news room discussions. However, the aam aadmi — the real ‘victim’ or beneficiary depending on the way one looks at it — has been conveniently kept away from the discussion. “That is how life is. No one has bothered to think about people like us. Many of my friends and I might have to look for a parallel means of earning livelihood at this age,” says Baljeet Singh, who runs a small parantha stall at ITO.  He is not just a citizen of Delhi with an isolated issue but emblematic of all Indians who are falling off the map of the ‘new’ and successful India where projection is more important than core issues. 

Singh, along with many others, will not be allowed to run roadside eateries as the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) has started removing roadside dhabas as part of an anti-encroachment drive ahead of the Commonwealth Games.

A few kilometres away from the busy intersection of ITO where Singh is left wondering about his meagre daily income, the organisers of the Durga Puja in Chittaranjan Park, Delhi, are fretting over the increased costs required to hold the festivities this year.
According to police records, out of its 80,000 personnel, 40,000 will be involved in the Commonwealth Games, and many more will be performing duties behind the stage. “Commonwealth Games may be great for the nation’s pride, but it’s not good news for us. We have been told that the local police will not be able to provide security or manage crowds at that time and we are left with no choice but to spend extra money on private security. Cutting down on celebrations is just not possible,” says Badal Roy, member, Durga Puja Samiti, Mela Ground, Chittaranjan Park.

His concern is shared by Subhash Goyal, who organises Ramlila during the dusshera festival in Chandni Chowk. “We have been asked to reschedule the traditional mela (fair). Why will people come to watch Ramlila if there are no fairs?” he asks.

What irks people like Roy and Goyal is that their entire year’s income is dependent on these festivities and the year-long preparation to make them successful has already cost them a lot of money.

Along with Ramlila and Durga Puja, even high-profile annual cultural fests like Ananya Dance Festival have not been spared. Citing insufficient security and traffic control personnel, the CWG Organising Committee has asked the organisers to change the fest’s dates to later in the month. Unfortunate, as Ananya is a major showcase of India’s vast repertoire of classical dance forms and has attracted attention even from foreign dignitaries since many years.

Retired Major General Narinder Singh, one of the members of the organising committee of Asian Games’82, lays the blame for city’s angst straight on the government’s doorstep. “We had a decisive leader then. Though we were given less than two years to organise everything including construction of six stadiums and six flyovers, everything was ready in time. In comparison, the present team has had seven years to plan and execute.”
He opines that instead of the Indian Olympic Association setting deadlines, the Delhi Government and the LG’s office should have taken charge. “A small consultative committee of experienced people with a decision making authority would have gone a long way in meeting deadlines and taking corrective actions,” he says.

Blind spots

On a smaller level, weddings are being postponed as in the case of Rema Pathak, whose daughter was  to get married in a community centre in Sarojani Nagar but cannot now. She is frantically trying to arrange for another venue and that seems next to impossible, even with the willingness to pay a higher cost. The Games are still far, but Delhi has already started to face a major shortage of wedding venues as around 50 prime community centres, mostly those located in central and south Delhi, have been booked by the police to house the paramilitary personnel who will be present in the Capital to ensure security during the Games. “Not everyone can afford a five-star hotel for a wedding. Why couldn’t the government think of an alternative housing for these things?” asks the miffed mother.

That an entire Commonwealth Village is being built near the Akshardham temple for such a purpose in East Delhi is of no consolation either. To begin with, the construction is happening on the river bed of Yamuna without proper clearances enhancing the risk of flooding the banks. Says environment activist Ravi Agarwal: “The government had been warned that this construction would alter the flooding pattern of the river. Unfortunately, the bureaucracy is our country is insensitive to anything to do with environment.”

There are other such pertinent issues that have been ignored as well. A resident of South Delhi’s Kalkaji colony, Raj Kumar has recently read that the MCD is all set to initiate a drive to remove hanging overhead electric wires as a part of its beautification drive ahead of Games in October, without any plan to shift them underground. “This means we will have to face a complete blackout at a time when the city is shining with lights. The authorities must not do this to us,” he says.

“This rushed beautification drive is causing the city to collapse under the heavy rains,” concurs Ravi Agwaral, “all the debris from the roads has blocked the drainage holes causing massive water-logging and traffic jams. What’s worse, tree roots have been left exposed due to all the digging work. If we want a city of the future, we cannot afford to mess with our natural heritage.”

In a way, these oversights are not typical to Delhi. Be it Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai or Kolkata, the common citizen always pays for bad infrastructure during rains, political rallies, bandhs and more because there is no political will to nurture the grass roots and more emphasis is given to those at the top of the power and pelf pyramid.

If nature’s vagaries have been ignored due to lack of political will, other blind spots are also aplenty. With major markets facing a  shut down during the opening and closing ceremonies of the Games, local shopkeepers are up in arms as well.

“We have been asked to shut shop on October 3 and 14. If the government really cared about its citizens, wouldn’t it know that we would benefit most at a time when the maximum number of national and foreign tourists will be around?” asks a trader from Connaught Place.

Khairati Lal Bhola from Bhartiya Patita Uddhar Sabha, an NGO working for sex workers since 27 years, is unperturbed with these mundane issues. His concern is the health of sex workers in Delhi. Back in 1984, two years after Delhi hosted the Asian Games in 1982, around 25 cases of HIV positive patients were reported. “During the Games, a lot of foreign and national tourists are bound to visit the capital and indulge in paid sex. My concern is that the Games are anyway doing nothing for these poor women, at least they shouldn’t be harmed in any way,” he says.

Bhola had written to authorities asking them to ensure that all foreign tourists be  allowed to come to India only after they clear a medical check-up at their respective embassies.  He is still waiting for a response.

Interestingly, the long list of grudges is not restricted to the the proletariat alone. Even the personnel from the Delhi Police and officials from the Delhi fire department are an unhappy lot. All police officials and fire-fighters have been asked to get ready for a no-leave month before and during the Games.

A sad comment on our national character is that exclusion rather than inclusion has become a way of governance where one half of India is white washed and the other half kept out of sight and out of mind. If we cannot rehabilitate beggars, petty shop owners, road side vendors and ordinary players in the life of everyday India, must we banish them ? The answer  is not  a lack of ambition. Sure, we  should get bigger and better. We should host international events. But we should paint the big pictures without overlooking the smaller details. Without compromising some of us for all of us.

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