Posted by: John Elliott | July 19, 2010

History repeated as Delhi judders leaderless towards the Commonwealth Games

Delhi, indeed India, faced a crisis 30 years ago. The Asian Games were to be held in the capital in 1982 and little had been done. Indira Gandhi, then prime minister, appointed her son Rajiv Gandhi, who had just entered politics, to take charge of organising the stadiums, hotels, highways and flyovers – which he did successfully, albeit at some cost to the city
For the last two years India has needed a “Rajiv Gandhi” to take charge of the Commonwealth Games (CWG) that are to be held in just over 70 days in Delhi, a city which is literally crumbling in monsoon floods, incomplete highways and metro railways, broken roads and pavements, collapsing drains, and unfinished and fault-hit sports facilities. 

Hindustan Times front page this morning

The best that can happen when the games are held in early October is that the city is patched up enough for the players and VIPs to be transported along barricaded roads to stadiums where slipping ceiling tiles and other building faults will be quickly rectified day by day. There is currently no guarantee that food will be served, not in any organised way, nor that the security services will operate effectively.

But who is in charge? Not it seems prime minister Manmohan Singh; not Sonia Gandhi, leader of the coalition and the Congress Party; nor any other national ministers – not even M.S.Gill, the distinguished bureaucrat turned politician who is sports minister and on Saturday berated the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) chief Michael Fennell for allowing several leading international athletes not to attend the games.
Also not in charge is Sheila Dikshit, an elderly-auntie political figure who is Delhi’s chief minister and seems to have neither the constitutional authority nor the stamina, muscle, guile and managerial ability needed to control Delhi’s rival and highly corrupt authorities.
Rahul Gandhi, Rajiv’s son and dynastically in line to become prime minister one day, might have been an good candidate, as his father was 30 years ago, because he would have had the authority, vested by his mother Sonia Gandhi, to over-ride the authorities and bureaucrats and force progress. A general secretary of the Congress Party, he has been holidaying abroad in recent weeks and is today in his Uttar Pradesh constituency of Amethi. 

Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium - venue for opening and closing ceremonies

Contrast the chaos with China’s stunning Olympic Games in 2008 or, as an example more in India’s league, look at South Africa where the brilliant FIFA World Cup ended triumphantly eight days ago.

“Pride for Africa as Spain strikes Gold” was FIFA’s website headline after the final in Johannesburg just over a week ago. “You have shown the world that you can achieve anything,” said FIFA President, Sepp Blatter. The Wall Street Journal wrote that South Africa defended itself against criticism about violent crime, disruptive labour strikes, and lacklustre organization ahead of the 2010 World Cup. “Now the country is winning widespread praise after a successful tournament, boosting its ambitions to host other major sporting events”.
There is no chance of such tributes being paid to India at the end of the Commonwealth Games.

unfinished Racecourse Station on Metro railway - today's picture

There are four main areas of concern:

1. incomplete stadiums and other infrastructure such as highways and metro lines, some already developing construction faults – leaving little time for test runs.

2. poor quality infrastructure construction – how much will fail during the ten days of the games?

3. dug-up roads, pavements, drains and cable ducts in the name of “street scaping” that cripple many roads and markets in the centre of the city – there is no question of these projects being properly completed, so will patching-up be sufficient for the Delhi to look more or less orderly?

4. the administration of the city during the games – can effective security can be put in place and some sort of steady traffic flow be organised?
The financing of CWG is in a mess – recent reports say sponsorship is falling far short of targets. Two months ago an independent report The 2010 Commonwealth Games: Whose Wealth? Whose Commons? – found that:

– “The budget for the CWG has risen from an initial projection of Rs1,899 crore [$422m at current exchange rate] to an official figure of Rs10,000 crore [$2.2bn] and independent expert estimates of Rs. 30,000 crore [$6.6bn].
– “The expenditure on sports infrastructure is already 2,160% of the initial projected budget.
– “The increase in the Union Budget allocation for the CWG from the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports rose by 6,235% from 2005-06 to 2009-10.
– “Total expenditure on infrastructure, beautification projects, and security is unknown but likely to be hundreds of crores.
– “Funds from the 2009-10 Scheduled Caste Sub Plan (Special Component Plan) in Delhi have been diverted to cover CWG related expenditures.
– “Over one lakh [100,000] families have already been evicted due to CWG related projects. 44 more JJ clusters [slums] are to be removed before the Games and an estimated 30,000-40,000 families will be displaced.
– “There is rampant exploitation of workers at CWG construction sites, including low pay, inadequate living conditions, and lack of safety equipment.”


As long ago as 2008, stories were beginning to do the rounds in Delhi (and abroad) about massive corruption and confusion at high levels in the games organization – I heard some first-hand from foreign visitors.

Not only were funds being creamed off contracts but, ironically, anti-corruption vigilance systems were adding to normal bureaucratic hassle because officials were scared not only to sign off on decisions but even to write notes on files.

Construction work on some stadiums is complete but on many it is still continuing, even on external structures. Aquatic and weightlifting events organised to test facilities have been cancelled in the past few days because arenas are not ready.

 The Hindustan Times this morning reports  (front page, top) that the main swimming events stadium (above), officially opened on Saturday with much fanfare, is incomplete and has some flooding. Embankments on a shooting range have collapsed, a false ceiling has fallen in another venue, and there is water seepage in a boxing stadium.
Such flaws are commonplace in India where construction firms have little notion of quality  and frequently bribe officials to accept poor work so that they can use below-standard material and fittings and make more money on repairs.

A crossing near Khan Market - has been in this state for months - today's photo


Bidding that started last year for catering contracts has just been cancelled and currently there appear to be no caterers, which means that some lucky well-connected firms will cream off huge profits (and pay huge bribes) on account of late ordering.

Corruption is at its most visible at streets and markets that have been “street scaped”. Connaught Circus at the heart of the city has been dug up for subways, only a few of which will be completed – the rest will be boarded up until later. The pavements of popular Khan Market are being dug up for a second time because highly polished granite that was laid a few weeks ago was too slippery.
Double-height grey kerbstones have been laid along all central Delhi roads. They are too high for slightly lame pedestrians to tackle but looked quite smart – until they were badly painted with black and yellow stripes that are now dirty (right). Central reservations have been dug up and similarly raised in height, adorned with metal fencing, and paved with fancy stones (below). Roads that have been completed are lined with rubble – not just small stones but sizeable lumps of granite. August 31 is the latest deadline set for a clean-up.
The quality of design is appalling. Uniform signage imposed on shops in a market off central Delhi’s Lodi Road looks like badly painted British design of the 1950s. The paved areas have ludicrous polished marble.

Few people know precisely why all this has happened, but everyone is actually sure of the reasons. Contractors and suppliers have bribed officials to commission over-egged projects, and no doubt accept over-invoicing, so that both officials and companies benefit – and benefit all over again when slipshod work has to be replaced, and again when boarded-up incomplete work is completed.
It’s a sad case of history repeating itself because, though Rajiv Gandhi got the Asian Games facilities complete in time, the problems caused were very similar, as Ved Mehta recounted in a biography Rajiv Gandhi and Rama’s Kingdom. As now, there were vast numbers of overlapping government committees and over-spends, with construction workers leading miserable underfed lives.  
“The whole exercise is being transformed by unscrupulous entrepreneurs with political pull into a money spinning operation,” wrote The Hindu newspaper, quoted by Mehta. “It has led to widespread hoarding and black-marketing of construction material. pushing up costs and, in the process, filling the pockets of the privileged few……”

India may seem to have changed a lot since 1982 but the basics have not really changed at all – as will be seen in early October.


  1. “India Shining Dimly? India is already a superpower. etc etc”

    This is a pretty grandiose delusional statement based on paranoia, unrealistic assumptions and ignorance.

    The Chinese, who has just surpassed Japan as the 2nd largest economy, are much more circumspect and modest, preferring to be low key about their achievement: “we should know who we are” (i.e. low GDP per capita). Rather than proclaiming their successes on what THEY HAVE DONE (rather than brag or fantasize about), they aim to better themselves, keep a low profile and concentrate on what they are lacking. China is reinventing herself to become not just a manufacturing powerhouse but will develop into a IT, medical, research and green energy global force. The next wave of development has just begun.

    All the crowing is done by foreign media and not by the Chinese. Indians are doing most of the crowing about their economy and strength.

    Many in India despite the many recent glaring failures try to hype what limited successes India has achieved. Self bragging does not earn much respect. It is a sign of insecurity, envy and deep seated inferiority complex.

  2. Sports Minister M S Gill made announcement that Sports Ministry doubled the cash award for medal winners at the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games. A gold medallist will now get Rs 20 lakh while silver medallists will be awarded Rs.10 lakh. The bronze medal winners will take home Rs 6 lakh.Check out latest updates of Commonwealth Games 2010

  3. Rahul also Raul Vinci has been oppenly accused by Dr Swamy of recipient of most of 1,500 crore ruppees . This guy has no shame by ignoring this claim and instead accuses CPI of Bengal of corruption.

  4. India Shining Dimly? India is already a superpower. With a huge population of young people and a population over 1.2 Billion and counting, India will soon reap the reward of the biggest population dividend in the human history. India is the largest democracy in the world. We enjoy many human rights and freedoms, which are the envy of the world. India is software superpower. Over 50% of the engineers in Microsoft, NASA, IBM, Apple, and other Western firms are Indians. India is space superpower. We have sent a rocket to the moon and discovered water there. We will soon send a man to the moon by 2020. India’s power is built on the firm foundation of democracy, while china’s strength is built on the sand of communism. We have already surpassed china in governance, freedom, and human rights. Our robust court system based on Rule of Law is the best in the world. Our scientists are second to none. Over 80% of Nobel laureates are of either Indian origins, or lived in India, or visited to India or known someone who have been to India. Indian are outstanding politicians. Over 25% of US senators, congressmen, and governors, including the youngest governors are of Indian origin. Long live India!!!

  5. Yes, it is true, we boast, games not far off,
    really seems falling flat as the politicians want to
    fill their coffers, little caring about the infrastructure, the prestige at stake. Corruption is rampant. Chaos, potholes every where.
    Is India shining or else!!!

  6. I could not agree more with INDIA SHINING DIMLY. The problem is that INDIA has always had a habbit of talking big. When it comes to delivering there is an excuse which is usually a foriegn hand if it was botched up. Every one is an expert at claiming to be the one with vision when it goes right and pass the buck when it goes wrong. The present jokers running the show could not organise a pissup in a brewery.
    As an Indian if you do criticise anything you are branded as UNPATRIOTIC. 4 years of organised chaos. So now lets blame everything on the heavy rains in Aug.

  7. India lives up to its well-deserved reputation as the preeminent underachiever among nations. India has a knack for defying the most pessimistic predictions by performing even worse than expected. This sham of a preparation must be unprecedented in the history of the Commonwealth Games, no, the history of sports. I can say with confidence that there has never been such a painfully plodding, incompetently executed, and thoroughly corrupt preparation for an international sporting event, be it the Olympics, the Asiad, the World Cup, or the Commonwealth Games. The incredible India has indeed done the incredible: being a self-proclaimed Great Power while botching a modest sporting event. Even the small nation of Greece, with a sliver of India’s population, has hosted the Olympic Games, which dwarfs the Commonwealth Games not only in scale but also logistical and infrastructural demands. India the super power soon-to-be? Bah! Try India the giant pygmy that can’t match the tiny Greece! With a political class of sycophants and incompetents, India would be lucky to hold itself together for another 60 years, much less aspiring to Great Power status.
    Speaking of Great Powers, I recall that a few years back, there was voluminous talk in India about catching up with China and surpassing it. Many Indians, driven by delusions of grandeur, flooded the Internet forums, belching the “India Shining” balderdash as unremittingly as the Gulf oil spill. Ever since the Chinese hosted the Beijing Olympics, which was an astounding display of China’s organizational and sporting prowess, the Indian pastime of fantasizing about overtaking China has suffered a precipitous decline. Through the Beijing Olympics, the Indians caught a glimpse of reality, which sharply moderated their false pride. The Indian ego was further deflated by the release of Slumdog Millionaire, which allowed the Western movie audiences a rare peek into the real India, whose grotesquery had hitherto been obscured by decades of Gandhian sanctimony and more recently, a thick layer of triumphalist maquillage. Now comes the Commonwealth Games fiasco, the last play in a trifecta of crushing publicity, and it may just do the impossible: muzzling the famously motor-mouthed Indians and putting their silly delusions to rest. No wonder India was fated to discover zero, for India is a ZERO!

  8. You Indians are really something special. There’s an old saying in Texas, “it ain’t bragging if you’ve done it”. For years now, I’ve witnessed an incessant stream of self-idolizing, grandiloquent drivel out of India, such as “India is Shining”, “India will be a super power by 2020”, “India will overtake China”, “Mumbai will be better than Shanghai in five years”, “India will host Olympics in 2020”, India this, India that, blah blah blah blah blah blah… India sure talks the good talk, but it can’t walk the walk. Heck, never mind walking, can India even crawl? Infrastructure can’t get built with idle boasts, so all the triumphalist nonsense is sadly beside the point. Thanks to the UN Development Agency’s new MPI Poverty Report and various other surveys, we now know that 55% of Indians live BELOW poverty line; 47% of Indian children are malnourished and therefore physically as well as mentally stunted (a percentage higher than Sudan and North Korea!); 20% of Indians go hungry everyday, of whom women suffer disproportionately; 160 million Untouchables are being oppressed by the Caste System and denied the very basic of rights; functional literacy stands at around a pathetic 50%, etc. All the figures add up to India being poorer than most Sub-Saharan African states. Now, here’s an idea for you Indians: how about putting a lid on your loud mouths and start doing real work for a change? Put action over words, substance over style, and actual results over marketing gimmicks. If you Indians can do that, you might just catch China by, say, 2150.

  9. Mani Shankar Aiyar summed it up best when he attributed it to one characteristic: evil.

  10. Rahman’s composition approved as CWG 2010 theme song

    AMIDST IRREGULARITIES, allegations of corruption in the upcoming Commonwealth Games, here comes a morale booster. The empowered group of ministers (GoM) has approved ace composer and Oscar winner A.R.Rahman’s composition as the official theme song for the CWG. The decision was taken after a meeting that took place on Sunday evening. The song titled as “Swagatham” is tentatively slated to be released in the next 10 days.

    The event which is nearly seven weeks away, its implementation and contours were discussed for nearly three hours on Sunday. Amidst speculations, Union Development Minister S Jaipal Reddy made it clear that there will not be any changes in schedule, neither should there be delays in meeting the specified deadlines in the completion and readiness of the stadias in order to host the event that spans for 11 days.

    On the composition, he asserted that the theme song was discussed between the GoM, Rahman, Film Director Shyam Benegal and Producer Bharat Bala. The song was approved in principle and will be presented before the public in another 10 days.

    With just 48 days for the games to begin and personal request from the Mozart of Madras to portray the games in a positive light, sources say that the idea behind choosing Rahman’s composition is to make it a cult song like ‘Jai Ho’ from Slumdog Millionaire and FIFA’s very own anthem, ‘Waka Waka’.

  11. Change in a democratic society happen in stages. In the first stage one is happy as things are, no matter how bad. In the next stage one desires change – better infrastructure etc. I would say Delhi/many parts of India are at this stage. The next stage is when one desires that things are done properly, that there are systems and processes.

    Unless there is a crisis then the pace of these changes are slow. 1992 was such a crisis which caused a fast change. Are there going to be any more crisises which cause faster change?

    In the absence of crisises one needs leadership to make fast change.

  12. While Reddy and Dickshit are treating the Games as their Big Fat Indian Wedding, the concern is that if the games do go ahead then entire stadiums could collapse on the heads of visitors. If we get out of season rains in October then what?
    This is not something they can fix with tent fabrics and marigold mala!

  13. So long as you have geiriatrics like Shiela Dixshit at the helm what else do you expect. The media should bring out the footage from the interviews with her (she reiterated again and again that there was no problem and everything was progressing smoothly) when she was confronted regarding Fennels remarks that things were in a mess a year ago. They blamed the outsiders for micromanaging them and interfering in their works. Perhaps they were throwing a spanner in the works of a well oiled corrupt engine. By all means India should have won the right to host the games as an emerging power. However I do not feel that INDIANS deserved it. from a budget of 1800 crores with sponsorships to a projected budget of 30000 crores with limited sponsors there is enough fodder to have this govt answer questions. While I am not a leftie who would advocate this money could have been spent to improve the lives of hungry people, it sure could have been used to improve the crumbling infrastructure in major metros.

  14. Completely true. If something would have changed, it must have surprised me. So no surprise whatever happening.

    Corruption and India are synonyms.

  15. Even, leaders like Subhash Chandra Bose or Vladimir Putin would be helpless because we indians are so corrupt.

    We (many of us) don’t pay the taxes, pay bribes to get anything done, don’t do their work properly. We want quick money with minimal or no effort.

    There is more black money in the country than the GDP.

    Most of the people who vote are uneducated, don’t know who they are voting.

    Have you ever checked the qualification/background/worthness of the candidates?

    I think only a dictatorship like Hitler can help india where people would be forced to follow the laws.

  16. India, in last 63 years, has been reduced to a third rate nation, ruled by incompetence at all levels.

    India desperately needs atleast a leader like Vladimir Putin, because India will never see another Netaji Subhash Ch. Bose.

    In the mean time the military needs to step in, and hang those that let the nation down with their incompetence and corruption. Drag them out of their graves if necessary …….. !

  17. Sad for me as an Indian, but is completely true!

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