Imagine the US turning Washington DC into a large and dusty excavation site to greet the world as hosts of the international championships in kabaddi. Or picture China spending ten times its total sports budget on conducting a rugby championship, one of the few games the Chinese have not yet shown interest in.
Hard to visualize, perhaps, but no less absurd than India spending tens of thousands of millions to invite former colonised brethren to a capital hurriedly wallpapered to shroud the problems its people face. For an extravaganza India and its people don’t care about.
India has already spent Rs. 28,054 crore of its people’s money – according to urban development minister Jaipal Reddy – on the Commonwealth Games at a time when the government is withdrawing subsidies for its farmers, workers and ordinary citizens.
The cuts in fertilizer subsidy, the hikes in petrol, diesel, kerosene and LPG prices are essential because the government subsidies were untenable, the Prime Minister and the finance minister have told the country. They haven’t bothered explaining how the funds they didn’t have for subsidies materialised for the CWG – just like they haven’t tried to explain the allegations of massive corruption that have clouded the Games. These questions are anti-national, and every Indian must feel proud about the Games, they shout instead.
Since when did pride – or respect – need an order to find expression?
Forced eviction and displacement of thousands from slums and college hostels, the bunker-like state of roads and sidewalks, and a sudden hike in taxes – these are the daily realities Delhi residents are facing even before the Games begin. Many displaced residents of Yamuna Pushta and students forced out of hostel rooms at Delhi University and Jamia Millia Islamia are still struggling for settled accommodation.
During the Games, the capital’s limited electricity and water will be prioritised for CWG-related activities, the government has already warned, meaning long power cuts and dry taps for residents. Special lanes will be created on critical link roads for CWG traffic, meaning less road space and more traffic jams for ordinary people.
What about after the Games? Will ordinary children – from slums, schools and colleges across the city – and sportsmen have regular and easy access to the stadia and training and practice facilities? Almost certainly no, because the organizers have decided to use the stadia and facilities as infrastructure to lend out at high rates to recover funds – ostensibly for the government. India’s poor sports associations – leave alone slums, schools or colleges – are unlikely to be able to cough up the rates charged.
The delay in preparing the facilities in fact means that Indian athletes may not get opportunities to practice in these stadia before the Games – nullifying any home advantage they were hoping for. London, in contrast, has already completed its stadia and facilities for the 2012 Olympics allowing British athletes to train at the new arenas.
But perhaps the absurdity of the CWG is the outcome of precisely the Indian State’s desire to emulate countries like the US, China and Britain in its ambition to become a superpower like them.
Behind the differences in levels of preparation, and the kind of events hosted, lies the common story that the Indian State wants to follow. This story features government withdrawal of social securities, dilution of labour laws, and increased public expenditure on the imperialistic ambitions of those in power at the cost of public needs like schools, hospitals and jobs.
Armed with over Rs. 28,000 crores, India could have built 9000 schools of the standard of the Kendriya Vidyalayas that regularly outperform private schools in academic performance, or started 30 new Indian Institutes of Technology. It could build 25 medical colleges-cum-hospitals of the standard of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences with this money.
The human resource development ministry has itself stated that India is short by about 12 lakh school teachers and that the reduced attraction of the teaching profession is a problem. The government could afford to pay 12 lakh primary teachers not just their salaries, but a 25 per cent hike (at Delhi rates, the highest in the country), for a year with the money already spent on the CWG.
Proponents of the large public expenditure on the Games argue that they will help promote sport in the country. But travel agents have already confirmed that many in Delhi plan to use the 12-day vacation in schools and colleges to head out of the city.
The government’s own lack of interest in promoting sports also exposes how the CWG has little to do with helping the country emerge high on the medals tally in international sporting events. India has allocated and spent just Rs. 11, 660 crore – much less than even half what it has spent on hosting the CWG – on all publicly funded sports and youth affairs over the last decade, budget documents reveal.
So whose Games are these? Because the people of India are being played with.