Saturday, October 16, 2010

CWG DEJA VU: LET THE INQUIRIES BEGIN!

"Let the Games begin." With these words of President Pratibha Patil, the Delhi Commonwealth Games, surrounded by the thick fog of corruption, began. Three hours and a spectacular Opening Ceremony later, the heavy clouds of doubt about its success had vanished and even the most die hard pessimists had become ecstatic believers.

When the near-flawless Games concluded two weeks later, the fireworks that lit up Delhi's sky symbolised the jubilation in Indian hearts that had been more than doubled by the unexpected record haul of medals by unsung India's sportsmen who had been almost forgotten before the Games began. Indian chests puffed with pride as the whole world applauded India for delivering 'world class' games.

"Let the inquires begin", said Dr Manmohan Singh immediately after, keeping his promise that those guilty of corruption -- nay loot -- would not be spared. There was much joy then too, and the media went hammer, tongs and gongs after Suresh Kalmadi, Chairman of the Organising Committee, the only guy against whom an inquiry has been ordered, report to be submitted in three months. In the din of the cheering that has followed, few have seen through the elaborate smokescreen that is being created to protect everyone else, particularly Urban Development Minister Jaipal Reddy, Sports Minister MS Gill and, above all, Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit.

Let's get a few facts straight. The overall budget of the Games, most of it for developing the infrastructure of Delhi, was around Rs 70,000 crores. Of this, Suresh Kalmadi was allotted a mere 1,600 crores, as his job was to simply run the Games after all stadiums and the Games Village, built under the watch of others, were handed over to him. Other spent nearly 50 times what he did, almost 98% of the total expenditure was incurred by them. But, inexplicably, no one is now talking about the massive cost overruns and loot there.

Kalmadi is manifestly guilty of corruption; no one has forgotten the stories about expensive toilet papers etc and the dubious contracts that were awarded by his team. For his many apparent acts of commission, he must be punished swiftly. There is little doubt that he will be too, but only politically. He is a political light weight who can be dispensed with, if not forever, at least till we forget, and that will be pretty soon. I don't believe any charge that can send him to prison will be allowed to stick. If Kalmadi sings, many will be singed. So, like it happens all the time, nothing will happen to nail him legally.

Kalmadi has become the fall guy, the dirty shirt that is being used to show how white the shirts of others are. Yesterday he was snubbed by the PM, a personally honest man, and today Sonia Gandhi has done the same. He is out of all photo frames, as if his mere presence will make others guilty of corruption too. The guy with the smallest budgetary outlay and, therefore, the least 'take' is being torn apart so that the big fish, without the knowledge and blessings of whom the Great Delhi Loot would not have been possible, can not only be sheltered and saved but also made to emerge smelling good.

The whitewashing of Sheila Dikshit has begun in right earnest with NDTV running a full interview with her and Barkha Dutt praising her for tucking in her saree to get Kalmadi's dirty Games Village cleaned up, even though Tejinder Khanna, Delhi's Lt Governor says she doesn't deserve the credit, all conveniently forgetting that it was the unprecedented rains that miraculously stopped just in time and saved the day for India. It is evident that Shiela Dikshit cannot be allowed to go under for corruption. Political power in India's capital and seven Lok Sabha seats are at stake, at the very least. When you add the ripple-effect and the fact that her indictment will translate into that of Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi too, you know that the media is going to work overtime to make sure that India will get to see only to that part of her saree that is spotlessly white.

Gill and Reddy have already been forgotten. Mani Shankar Aiyar, the man who slept over CWG files for years when he was Sports Minister, thereby facilitating the last minute ballooning of the budget and the attendant loot, has been rewarded for his efforts with a dubious Rajya Sabha seat even though he lost in the Lok Sabha elections. Rahul Gandhi, who refused to follow in the footsteps of his father and take charge of the Games, and who cleverly kept totally away from it, is basking in the praise being showered on him for imperiously allowing everyone to rob this nation; no blame can stick to him because he did nothing.

The inquiries have barely begun. But, already there is a feeling of Déjà Vu. You can feel it in your bones that not one 'Dilli ka Thug' is going to caught and punished. At best a petty official or two will be booked for deviating from procedure. Kalmadi will at worst fade into opulent anonymity. The books will remain cooked, ignoble intentions and criminal acts concealed. Our complicit media will soon say 'cut' and move on to something else that will distract India's attention and cover Congress' 'cuts'. And India will soon bid for an even bigger gold mine: Olympics.
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