India: Common Wealth Games – showcase of India’s progress?

Games Ridden with Corruption

Now it’s more than a month since Common Wealth Games (CWG) 2010 hosted by India at the national capital Delhi concluded (14th Oct) after 12 days of competition. Games witnessed participation of 6000 athletes from 71 nations competing in 17 sports. Indian ruling class was determined to use this as an opportunity to showcase country’s growth and development. Looking back it’s clear that CWG truly showcased India’s lopsided growth and development.

Mega projects like hosting CWG games offers a huge opportunity to make big bucks and the corrupt Indian ruling classes have left no stone unturned to make the maximum out of it.

Obviously issue of corruption acquired center stage. Financial regularities were widely observed across all projects executed under CWG umbrella and issuing of tenders was equally dubious. In one such project work was actually allotted to a bidder quoting highest price jumping off all procedural norms while in another instance contractor that won the bid after quoting lower price was allowed to change the figures later.

Sleaze and perfidy of politicians could not take more vulgar form as deals on overlays. Often such dealings ‘transcend’ political and even national boundaries. One of the firms that supplied overlays was owned by nephew of a BJP (opposition party) leader and another supplier Nussli is a Switzerland based firm.

Be it contractor treacherously changing prices after allotment of work in CWG or a senior bureaucrat being gifted a luxurious flat for ‘facilitating’ a land deal in Mumbai or a minister openly taking bribe for clearing a file, if one looks at them closely these are absolutely ‘crude and rustic’ forms of corruption when compared with ‘sophisticated and legitimized’ forms in advanced countries. While big industrial houses effectively use Parliament, Union Government and even judiciary to skew policies in their favor weaker; other sections of ruling class such as the petty bourgeois and feudal elements often have to rely more on lame malpractices linked to crony capitalism and nepotism.

While intellectuals and columnist severely criticized politicians and bureaucrats involved, not mentioned in their analysis is how corruption is product of underlying social and economic structure of the society. It has taken a particularly rapacious form in neo-colonial countries like India with co-existence of corporate forms of corruption with bureaucratic & petty bourgeoisie interests & vestiges of feudal power that still holds sway in the countryside (in absence of genuine land reforms & redistribution).

Workers protesting against the exploitation, coruption & dislocation caused by the CWG. Courtesy: TCN News

On the Blood, Sweat & Tears of working class

The Indian ruling class & its mouthpiece – the media made lofty claims about employment opportunities to 415,000 workers through the multiple projects related to CWG. Impressive! However a closer look at nature and conditions of employment would reveal appalling truth behind figures.

CWG truly ‘showcased’ the horrendous condition of country’s unorganized labor, particularly in the construction sector, which were usually contractual labor with absolutely no social security benefits. Workers were made to work day and night at work places that were extremely unclean, unhygienic and unsafe. No safety appliances confirming to national standards were used or issued by private contractors in order to boost their profits. A panel appointed by Delhi High Court discovered 43 workers killed building venues for CWG projects.

Equally scandalous were wages paid to these labors. Unskilled workers were paid around Rs. 90 while skilled ones around Rs. 120. Both these figures are significantly lower than Rs. 152, minimum wage for 8 hours stipulated by Delhi state government. Considering that workers worked for 14-16 hours a day they were in effect paid only around 1/3 of their due wages. All this once again proves how ineffectual institutions like labor or health departments have become in the face of onslaught of neo -liberal capital & the growing in-formalization of the economy.

Games cost many informal workers of their means of livelihood. As per National Association of Street Vendors of India (NASVI) over 275,000 informal sector workers including street vendors and rag pickers lost their livelihoods by the forceful evictions by the authorities. Evictions and demolitions carried out while implementing security measures resulted in around 250,000 people loosing their homes which were often brutally carried out by the police.

Misallocation of Funds

Suresh Kalmadi (right), chairman of the Organizing Committee & the man at the centre of the CWG controversy. Courtesy: rediff news

This has been the most expensive CWG event in its history with total budget of around $ 6 billion including infrastructure projects. This is 4 times higher than previous one hosted at Melbourne for $1.4 billion. This colossal wasting of money, that essentially belonged to the working & toiling masses of the country, could instead have been used to providing quality education, health & other basic services which is the actual need of the hour.

Even if one keeps aside this issue of prioritization and considers allocating the funds for development of sports, was the money spent furthered the cause? Jaypal Reddy, Urban Development Minster confessed in Parliament that only 4% of the total sum was spent on games! And by the way what is this infrastructure development? A significant amount has been spent on road widening & building flyovers (adding to the profits of the steel & cement companies) for the benefit of private (gas guzzling) vehicles which perfectly fits into Indian ruling class plans to boost GDP growth without caring a fig leaf for the environment or sustainability.

What about 4% money spent on games? As a matter of fact most of the money was spent on renovating stadia constructed earlier! Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, constructed during the 1982 Asiad games was merely renovated this time, after spending a whooping sum of Rs. 10 billion. Same is the case of Indira Gandhi Indoor Stadium.

Argument is not against allocation of funds for development of sports. Sports is quite an important aspect of social life especially for youths to sharpen and demonstrate their physical as well as psychological capabilities. However, under capitalism, events such as CWG or IPL (Indian Premier League) has reduced sports to crass commercialism to a few sporting games at the expense of different sporting traditions of various countries.

National Jingoism

Holding games successfully has become an issue of national pride & prestige, & anyone not found agreeing have been branded as traitor or anti-national at worst. As games approached and filthy conditions at games village threatened the very commencement of games, media severely criticized Organizing Committee and government. However this criticism was not against trampling of workers rights nor was it against their gross exploitation (which hardly figured in their reports) but stemmed more from fear of shoddy hosting of the event tarnishing India’s global image. So reckless was government that it was not even ashamed to divert funds worth Rs. 7.45 billion earmarked for welfare schemes of Scheduled caste and tribes (SC/ST) in the honor of national glory.

Though the Indian ruling class is putting brave face citing India’s medal tally and grand opening ceremony, it has miserably failed in achieving lofty goals it set when bidding for CWG. Holding the games was supposed to have demonstrated that one day India would bid to host Olympics. But instead the world witnessed it struggling to host even CWG.

To be honest the games did ‘showcase’ nation’s growth & economic progress is built on the exploitation of its working masses. It did demonstrate how class bias is prevalent in media that ignores deaths of workers. It very well showcased its children laboring over construction sites. And it did showcase how amidst all this its affluent citizens could indulge in gala celebrations with dazzling light- shows lightening skies.

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November 2010