Friday, January 25, 2008

COMMON 'WEALTH' GAMES PEOPLE PLAY

The capital is to host the Commonwealth Games in 2010 but the progress of preparations is so tardy that it seems that, eventually, various ambitious projects will get completed probably just as the Games begin, at far greater cost to the tax payer than originally planned. May be that is the basic idea behind the turf wars and bureaucratic delays in finalizing the projects and signing various contracts. It may also be that, like everywhere else, everyone who is someone in the set up wants to ensure that his ‘gains’ are maximized. Since this has to be at the expense of someone else who’s got the same idea, the whole machinery is getting stalled!

Into this all too familiar mess worth a lot of money, there is a strong likelihood of Rahul Gandhi jumping in as the final arbiter, the last hope as it were. Suresh Kalmadi, Chairman of the Organizing Committee, has finally thrown up his hands in despair and requested Rahul Gandhi to take charge and put the preparations on a fast track.

See the irony? The Central Government is led by the Congress party, the state government of Delhi is of the Congress and Kalmadi too is a Congress MP. With such unity of command already available, things should be moving really smoothly. But, the trouble begins right at the top. Sports Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar and Kalmadi have been engaged in a messy confrontation which, as per Kalmadi, even cost India the opportunity to host the Olympics in 2016. Add to it the springing up of many groups who are opposing virtually all infrastructural projects which are needed by Delhi anyway but are being accelerated to be completed by 2010. Knowing how things work in India, most of them are probably just the visible faces of the many vested parties who want an even bigger pie than is on offer!

Resident Welfare Associations, for example, may be calling for keeping the proposed Badarpur Delhi Metro line underground for the additional few kilometers that it passes through their colonies. But when you realize that the proposal would cost a whopping Rs 800 crores extra, hidden hands which stand to benefit from this almost exceptional demand can scarcely be hidden.

Is not there something deeply sickening about the way this sordid drama is enacted ad nauseum all over India?

It is convenient to keep blaming the politicians for the repeated failure of institutional mechanisms to smoothly deliver what is routinely expected of them. They have to take the blame, no doubt, as it represents a failure of leadership, but the real rot perhaps is in the ‘steel frame’ of India, the bureaucracy whose almost total lack of accountability emboldens it to get away without being exposed in the manner leaders in any field are.

In the run up to the Games, those involved are quite clearly not energized by national pride or the need to achieve excellence in their efforts which are quite closely linked to the image of a confident India racing to catch up with the developed world. Their many visits at government expense to a number of countries, even China, have not fired them to do their jobs faster and better. Their well entrenched attitudinal shackles are obviously far too strong to be broken by the much needed competitive spirit that the country needs.

Where is the incentive to deliver, forget about excelling, when a bureaucrat is guaranteed a rise to the level of Joint Secretary the moment he is selected, and almost everyone goes even higher? With that unparalleled security in the bag, the career focus, quite naturally, is almost wholly on personal enrichment (count-on-your-fingers exceptions apart) and cadre domain expansion. There is no way a professional can get into a position of authority in the bureaucratic maze to deliver desperately needed direction and results in quick time. The reverse happens all the time, wherever money can be smelled by generalist bureaucrats, trained to delay and question, not answer to anyone for producing tangible results.

The Commonwealth Games are three and a half years away. But the common ‘wealth’ games that politicians, bureaucrats and other people play are already on in right earnest. These games of greed have already caused needless delays and alterations in various projects. And, considering the huge amounts involved, these games may well become an end in themselves.

The Congress party, after the string of debilitating defeats in UP, Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh is now worried about its fate in Delhi where elections are to be held in 2009. With really big bucks at stake in connection with the Commonwealth Games, the delays in finalizing mega contracts could cost all those fighting ruthlessly for the spoils dear, if the Congress loses power in Delhi as well as at the Centre after the general elections due next year.

That is most likely the reason behind the SOS call for Rahul Gandhi to assume the leadership position for kick starting the almost stalled preparations for the Games. There may, of course, be the badly needed spillover benefit to his image as a Prime Minister in waiting if the Games go off successfully.

Yes, Rahul Gandhi is needed to ensure that the Commonwealth Games are successfully conducted and that the facelift desperately needed by the city of Delhi is executed without further delay. Only he has the power in the Congress hierarchy to override and overrule everyone in the party, even the government, without even the semblance of a protest. Only he can get factions warring basically over money to agree to accept the ‘losses’ that his decisions will cause to some of them! Only he has the unwritten authority to paper over the systemic failures that are stalling the preparations and bleeding the tax payer.

Sad but true.