Posted by: John Elliott | October 15, 2010

The games end well – in a week of other incredible India scams

So the Commonwealth Games are over, finishing on a high at a closing ceremony last night. This colourfully marked the end of the games’ eleven increasingly good days as a stumbling administration got its act together, and Delhi people realised there were splendid events worth watching and gradually filled the initially very empty stands.

I went to the games on Tuesday – to a marvellous afternoon of sevens rugby at a Delhi University ground (below). There weren’t any tickets officially available, and I guess it’s better if I don’t say who sold me mine near the gate when I arrived there – but I only paid the standard Rs250 (about $5.50) for a ticket marked ‘complimentary’. The stands were at least one-third empty, but young Indian spectators along with expatriates roared their approval as New Zealand’s All Blacks won gold in the final against Australia.


But what is it that makes India spoil such internationally significant successes? I’m prompted on this thought partly by the end of the games, which could have been so much better, and also by two other events this week.


There has been a fresh crisis in the spectacularly successful though scam-ridden IPL private sector cricket league, and an appalling display of corrupt self-serving mis-governance by unruly politicians in Karnataka, whose state capital of Bangalore (now  Bengaluru) used to be seen internationally as the centre of modern Indian excellence.

The latest Outlook magazine [Oct 17] has a cover story (left) suggesting Karnataka is India’s most corrupt state, “Every government is more corrupt than the last” says an official investigator, Justice N.Santosh Hegde.

It is not enough simply to dismiss these three examples, as some foreign commentators do, by simply saying it is all because of India’s way of doing things. The problems run deeper in society than that. It is of course partly a lack of managerial focus and, in the case of the games, the unwillingness or inability of professional experts to challenge the often corrupt dominance of self-serving top officials and politicians. That then links with the over-riding drive of greed and corruption that bedevils progress in India.

It is now unfashionable to criticise the Commonwealth Games. The mood in India is upbeat because the country came second to Australia with 38 gold medals, just beating England,  and won a total of 101 including silver and bronze.

But at least four official investigations are now being started by government agencies, with reports of over 30 cases of alleged corruption being examined, so it remains to be seen how many of those responsible for massive mis-use of public funds (budgets exceeded $6bn) are caught and punished. Those in charge obviously hope to use the current euphoria to sweep away memories of the bribes and disasters, but politicians of non-government parties are unlikely to let this happen.


Some of those involved are mounting public relations offensives to rescue their reputations – led by Sheila Dikshit, Delhi’s chief minister (left) who presided ineffectually over much of the chaos in the city, and Suresh Kalmadi, (below) head of the Commonwealth Games Organising Committee who is a primary target for the investigators. Dikshit’s state government and its agencies had a $3.5bn budget that was enormously bigger than Kalmadi’s and vastly over-spent. 

The games could have been so much better if only those involved had managed them well and not indulged in such all-pervasive corruption that delayed contracts and projects and led to massive cost over-runs. That would have then avoided the last minute completions and allowed time for all the facilities to be tested before the games opened. Most of the glitches such as problems with ticket sales, security equipment, food in the venues, and poor transport faculties, would have been avoided.


Then there is the India Premier League (IPL) cricket league with its fast-paced Twenty-20 cricket matches, which as I wrote in April, must go down in history as India’s most popular and celebrated scam.

The league’s April crisis uncovered all sorts of shady investments and linkages and led to the ousting of Lalit Modi, who ran the league and is now reportedly evading arrest in the UK.

This week’s news is that the BCCI, India’s national cricket board, which itself has for years mired in murky politics and corruption, has unilaterally suspended two teams, the Rajasthan Royals and Kings XI Punjab, because of unclear foreign shareholdings. Some investors involved suggest this could spell the end of the league, but whether it does or not, the BCCI’s decision smacks of vindictiveness and what, in other areas, would be called insider dealing.

Karnataka blight

But perhaps the saddest event is the political crisis in Karnataka where regional politicians have been trying to unseat the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) state government’s chief minister.

They are not doing so because of any policy differences, but simply because of business-based rivalries, particularly involving scams in the state’s rich mining industry that surfaced last year and centre on the Reddy family of businessmen-politicians. Two brothers, Janardhana and Somashekara Reddy (below), who have been state government ministers and have become enormously rich in a decade with their  Obulapuram Mining company, are at the centre of the crisis.

Outlook magazine lists current state government ministers who have been involved in illegal mining, land scams and other crimes including rape.


Karnataka used to be one of India’s most successful states, initially setting trends for social and education development in the early decades of independence.

Then its capital, Bangalore, grew in the 1970s around the success of public sector engineering companies such  as Bharat Heavy Earth Movers, Hindustan Machine Tools, Bharat Heavy Electricals, and others. In the 1980s and 1990s it emerged as India’s first internationally famous centre of technological excellence, spearheading the development of information technology, and spawning firms such as Infosys and Wipro as well as hosting foreign companies like Texas Instruments.

 When I first visited India in 1982 as the FT’s industrial editor, Bangalore was the first city I visited and it remained a source for good positive stories into the 1990s.

But the rot had already set in, with political corruption growing from the 1980s as the city boomed, boosting real estate development and the price of land. A dramatic change was evident in 2005 when I went back to look at infrastructure projects. These included an airport and highway that had been delayed partly by rival politicians making huge profits from land speculation. Deve Gowda, a former Karnataka chief minister who had briefly been India’s prime minister in the mid-1990s, was in the lead at the time, just as the current chief minister, B S Yediyurappa, and his family are now.

Now it is iron ore and other mining that could be making the state rich, but instead is pulling it down into greed and corruption-based politics, while the information technology and other industries that initially made Karnataka a success expand elsewhere, and the poor remain poor.


  1. With all the success in conduct of CWG despite several drawbacks, the CWG scam is yet anaother feather in India’s cap of corruption charges.

  2. Corruption remains the biggest scourge of our country. Sychophancy, indiscipline, an overdose of democracy, no regard for rules are next in the list. You remove these and bring in the merit, we would be in a different world to live in.
    It is easy to say multiciplity of authority and Sheila Dixit being a saint, far from it.
    She collectively with the Governor Tajendra Khanna are responsible for the mess that is Delhi.
    Who advised them on street scaping, she lives bang in the middle of Lutyens Delhi. Was she oblivious to the fact the way Delhi streets were being raped, Tajender Khanna just turning a blind eye to re-laying of streets and street lighting done just recently. it went on for darbaris to make money.
    There was no accountability. They were all gorging and doling money as if there was no tomorrow and the current account would soon go dry.
    If anyone is to be sacrificed, it is the CM and Governor for the mess that is Delhi.
    We have a team of DHRITRASHTRA’s running the country begining with centre and followd by states.
    We have to fix not one institution but many to fix the leaks at all levels and walks of life.
    Dixit, Khanna may run helter skelter, but they are biggest wasters.
    best regards, syngal

  3. I do not understand why you seem to continuously target Sheila Dixit.
    ‘Some of thiose involved are mounting public relations offensives to rescue their reputations – led by Sheila Dikshit, the Delhi chief minister (left) who presided ineffectually over much of the chaos’

    And from a previous post of yours:
    ‘Those responsible include Sheila Dikshit, Delhi’s chief minister (who received loud applause last night), Jaipal Reddy, Minister for Urban Development, and M.S.Gill, Minister for Sports – none of whom have the caliber or authority to lead such a mega event’.

    From what I see she is one of the more able administrators around for sure. She has the caliber but not the authority, due to the multiplicity of authorities in Delhi.
    So many of the agencies, which were responsible for the mess, were not under her jurisdiction. The games village fiasco was the responsibility of the DDA (under the lieutenant governor of Delhi). Sheila Dixit stepped in to clear this mess. She took the decision to rope in the hotel associations. Most others would have thrown in more DDA into the mix. Some of the foreign teams apparently took heart only when she took charge of the village. You should be able to verify this.
    She has talked about the lack of management quality and attention to detail in the village project.

    In all probability this is not something, which will be looked at in the various probes that will be set. Corruption is our favourite topic and I assume this will be the focus of the probes, which will be set up.
    The real issue is the multiplicity of authority in Delhi. This is something that the Delhi CM has been asking for a resolution for many years. Without a real cock up these issues are usually not resolved. So it will be really interesting to see if there are any institutional changes. If not, then the thrashing of India’s over hyped brand image will have gone to waste.
    You know the saying do not fix the leaking pipes, fix the institution which fixes the pipes.

  4. The Karnataka corruption was fairly extensively documented by Tehelka, but now I see that that magazine with a sterling track record of muckraking (at least for an outsider looking in) is going out of business. Perhaps you might enlighten us as to why this had to happen in some column in the, hopefully, not too distant future. Was it because they were too sympathetic with the Naxalites’ cause?

  5. Dear John,

    I cannot resist myself without commenting as you try to put things as you see and interpret.

    Its time of celebration all over India. Navaratra, Garba, Dashara, Diwali. From poor to rich, all are planning for these festivals.

    And in such a good time, your concern for greed and corruption is out of place.

    Don’t you think so?

    with regards,

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