Common woes

The 2010 Commonwealth Games crisis has pushed several crucial “emergency” situations into the background. Sadly, as a nation, we will be criticised for an event that should have actually gone in our favour and reinforced the India brand. We can build an airport terminal in record time, we now have the Delhi Metro that can compete with the best in the world, and yet we have a manmade disaster in the Games.

While everyone will indulge in a blame game, the fact remains that though the decision to host the Games was taken in 2003, no work commenced till 2008. This issue, like many others, was consigned to a group of ministers (GoM) and, predictably, ministers squabbled and all plans remained in the files. Then suddenly, at the 11th hour, various agencies were asked to produce a “miracle” under a tainted chain of command and ministers known for poor decision-making.
All these factors have contributed to creating the catastrophe but the establishment is in denial and insists “all is well”. All is certainly not well and the everyday problem faced by the aam aadmi and those who live near the CWG village and Games sites are seriously frustrated with government apathy and corruption. The United Progressive Alliance has suffered a severe setback and its credibility is at stake. It is time for a reality check and not to take public opinion for granted anymore.
Should we be surprised to see stray dogs and cattle, poor standards of hygiene and garbage and filth everywhere? The people of Delhi, rather the entire country, suffer the same problems that are being highlighted in the Games Village.
We still have a few days to go and it would be a pity if 99 per cent of the work done is wrecked by a few residential blocks that have been recently completed and not cleaned properly. This should be done on a war footing. Is it not reasonable to expect sports minister M.S. Gill and urban development minister Jaipal Reddy to be present on the premises on a 24x7 basis and get the job done? I sincerely hope the Games go well and the “cleaning” process is completed in time.
The anger regarding the Games mess is rising because it hurts our pride. Over the last decade India has proved that it is capable of bigger and greater things. Indian talent in every field has made its presence felt in the global community. Our eight per cent gross domestic product growth not only reflects on our immediate past but also pays tribute to our foresight in creating sound foundations for growth.
The world is watching India because it holds a lot of promise and presents wonderful opportunities for the rest of the world. We must look into the controversy surrounding the Games in this context. If we had started work in 2006 instead of 2008, we could have completed everything a year in advance and tested everything over a six-month period.
This kind of mediocre and half-hearted effort, which shows us in bad light, is unacceptable. Action must be initiated and this must start from the top. We have achieved a great many things but we also have miles to go. With greater exposure and a better understanding of issues by our youthful demographic pattern, we will need a better political response in the future than we have had in the past. The Games mess holds many lessons. They must be learnt and the mistakes never repeated.
As Prime Minister Manmohan Singh talks tough, chief minister Sheila Dikshit and her team has rushed in people to clean the residential areas of the Games Village. Though this is not the time to discuss the question of political accountability, the country’s image cannot be held hostage by a few individuals in authority. The “buck” has to stop at the political level.
I hope that better sense will prevail and no country will pull out at the last moment. I also hope that the small number of athletes who have withdrawn from the Games will change their minds and attend.
We must not blame the media for negative publicity as it is not the job of the media to dole out positive news when none exists.

THE BIHAR elections will no doubt generate a great deal of activity. In fact we already see some movement from the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP). This is understandable as the Congress is moving into the main frame and may well double its tally from the existing 10 seats to 20-plus. If this happens, the Congress will be the main challenge for the alliance of the Janata Dal-United (JD-U) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the next elections.
My knowledge of caste calculations in Bihar is not very good, but as things stand the reputation of chief minister Nitish Kumar dwarfs everyone else in the state. Along with his high integrity there is the additional factor of real work being done in rural areas, including new roads, six to eight hours of electricity supply and an improved law and order situation. The figures that I had given last week in my column were based on conventional anti-incumbency trends but the public is always ahead of all calculations and we may well see the JD(U)-BJP combine gaining along with the Congress at the expense of the RJD-LJP.
Rahul Gandhi threw a few political punches and received a few in return and this is a good sign as there is no other way to recover lost ground in Bihar. The same position exists in West Bengal and Tamil Nadu where the Congress has ceased to exist as a cohesive force. The challenges in these three states are very similar to what the Congress faces in Uttar Pradesh.
We all talk of change but we tend to cling to conventional political wisdom. Few parties have concentrated on membership drives to generate votes. Considering that major political changes can be brought by a swing of just two to three per cent, the policy of the Congress general secretary may well yield the electoral space the Congress is looking for in these four critical states.

Arun Nehru is a former Union minister

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