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The CWG Fiasco

Omkar Goswami


Suresh Kalmadi deserves kudos for effortlessly becoming the epitome of India’s national shame and the source of some of the funniest internet and mobile text jokes. I love the reason why he couldn’t hang himself (the CWG ceiling collapsed, what else?), and the anagram of his name (“Sir, U made lakhs”).

As we move to the last week before the inauguration of the CWG, the main newspapers pages have changed tack to showing happy athletes and how all is well in the various sites, especially the Games Village. Probably the publishers got browbeaten by the government. But till even five days ago, there were enough stories which either reported the sheer extent of this huge failure, or analysed why it became such a pathetic embarrassment.

Here are my two takes on the CWG. The first is rational. The second, offered by my wife Radhika, is probably more accurate.

The rational story is that we just don’t know how to coordinate in any way worth the name. There were different entities and characters involved in the CWG — Kalmadi, the Delhi chief minister Shiela Dikshit, the Union Sports Minister M.S. Gill, the Union Urban Development Minister and head of the Group of Ministers steering the CWG, Jaipal Reddy, the contractors, the PWD, the cops, the various intermediaries, and every single what-have-you under the sun. None communicated any. No single entity had the final accountability. Everybody did as they wished, thus doing nothing worth the while, except lining their pockets, giving freebies to friends and fellow contractors, and picking the coffer while watching their fingernails grow. Nobody reviewed things sufficiently enough. Thus, everything that could possibly fall actually fell through the cracks. Add to it gross incompetence, widespread corruption and nepotism. As a noted journalist has recently observed, this is yet another example of how Old India shames India.

That, then, is the so-called ‘rational’ take — the one that you and I would have to parrot when we meet friends from abroad. The other explanation, offered by Radhika, is far more simple. Here it goes...

According to Radhika, over 95 per cent of the men in India piss, spit and scratch their nether regions anytime and anywhere. She is right. If you looked at the population of males in India in 2010 in the age group 15-64 years, I reckon that no more than two crore men of our country are conscious of not pissing, spitting and scratching in public places, in front of all and sundry. The other 40 crore in that age group think the world is their receptacle, 24x7.

Radhika’s hypothesis then turns to a simple question: “Have you seen any country build anything of significance involving thousands of people who believe they can piss and spit anytime and anywhere?” The answer is no.

Her point is this: no nation can expect a huge mass of men who piss and spit anywhere to coordinate and build world class facilities. The fact that the managers cared little about work culture and discipline only matters worse — creating, as it were, even larger, state-sanctioned spaces to defile and desecrate.

It is an important point. It is about a culture that doesn’t care a fig for public places, public goods, and public propriety. A suited Indian executive or malik sitting in the front of a plane can merrily spray urine all around the toilet seat without the slightest consideration about cleanliness, and care for the next passenger. Cleaning it up afterwards? Am I a sweeper or what!? Haven’t we all faced this? So, Radhika says that if such is 95 per cent of this country’s manhood, why should you expect anything significant?

My guess is that the Chinese had their version of this hypothesis. Up to five years before the 2008 Beijing Olympics, most Chinese men, especially the elderly, were significantly loud and productive hoickers of phlegm. Expectorating was a common sound in urban China, especially as you walked along the streets. And spitting the natural outcome.

Suddenly, the authorities decided enough is enough. Within a couple of years, you stopped seeing the Chinese spitting on the sidewalks, especially in major cities like Beijing and Shanghai. By 2007, it had disappeared. The Chinese decided to get rid of an urban embarrassment. So they did.

Why was the Athens Olympics an embarrassment right up to the inaugural? Because the Greek are like us. Disorganised; argumentative; unproductive; often devoid of managerial capabilities; with some of the worst bureaucrats of Europe. And guess what: with the largest proportion of European men who think they can do what they want and piss and spit in public. As their right.

The post-script: a nation of unmitigated male pissers and spitters don’t punish the guilty. So our glorious Shri Kalmadi will go scot free.

Published: Business World, October 2010


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