Delhi Arriving in Delhi everyone from cabdrivers to front page headlines in the Times of India and every other paper led with the medal surge for India in shooting and wrestling which propelled the country to second place in early standings. They could take a small amount of pride since every other story emerging from the Games was a travesty of mess and mayhem. The karma seems clear and what goes around is coming around.
Delhi petrified about the surge of traffic closed all schools for the week and most businesses were asked to close as well. The poor were not simply relocated from the streets and slums for the construction, but causing a crises for the middle class the government forced many to return to their villages so that they were off the streets. Beggars were moved to compound housing to get them off the streets and the stories there were horrific, though as the Chief Minister said, “it is against the law” to beg.
Meanwhile no ticket prices were lowered despite the fact that the crowds were sketchy and small in all of the venues after the opening ceremony. 300 reported for squash in a venue for 3500. 10000 for cricket in a stadium for over 30,000.
And, once there, good luck. Hyper-security concerns are trumping everything so no ticket holder is allowed to bring in food or drink. Of 9 food stalls designed for the stadium the police only allowed 3 to open, so there were constant reports of people without food or drink sitting in the stands in misery.
That is if they got to the stands at all! Once again security concerns meant that parking and crowd offloading was at a considerable distance from the venues forcing everyone to walk great lengths. Additional security at the venue included coins, car keys, and books. For many if they walked back to secure these items in their cars, they couldn’t walk back to the venue in time to see the event. This is almost hilarious. Why? Police were concerned that the crowds might throw coins, keys, and books at the athletes. Wow!
Some of the athletes and dignitaries had to wait up to 2 hours to get to the Games when hundreds of drivers all recruited from neighboring states by Tata, the company providing the 1500 vehicles, simply didn’t show up for work on Tuesday, because they couldn’t work without food or water either and weren’t allowed to bring it in. Tata is a giant concern in India and whined along with all of the other contractors that the rains last week in Delhi prevented training so the drivers, all new to Delhi, had no clue how to navigate the streets and directions to the venue. Today they claimed to a Times of India reporter that they have hired a new 500 drivers, but got knows if they know their way around. It is all like reading about the Indy 500 and then learning that the GM pace car couldn’t find the track while driving in from Detroit.
The security “doors” similar to airports also didn’t work according to police. Software and hardware had not been tested so actually delayed the fans coming into the games.
The interview with the Sheila Dikshit, Chief Minister for Delhi , was a classic of Indian politics and journalism. With disaster all around and the Games devolving into farce with disappointing to non-existent crowds, she crowed at the success of the last week’s hurried preparations and her personal applause at the opening ceremony by deftly blaming the international organizing committee, the contractors, and everyone else for the well documented problems. She even added to them by pointing out that the water was scalding at the taps because no one had connected the hot and cold together at the faucets! She blamed the dog problem on holes in the fences which were easily mended, and took credit for everything while citing only the most minor things done. She left it to the Party to determine her political future at the end of the interview now that she was a “rock star.” Yikes!
The stories made clear that there were only two priorities at the Games: the athletes and the VIPs. The fans, the ticket holders, and anyone else just like the slum dwellers and the informal workers in the city be damned. They were simply irrelevant and did not exist.
Is this aberrant throwback atavism of Indian’s great culture and progress really what they wanted to showcase in Delhi?
Possibly. And, they may just get away with it. The sports pages of India and the world are hardly the place for extensive social justice commentary. They will focus on wins and losses for those who care about these games in the former British Empire.
Fort he rest it may be enough that the giant new concourses at Delhi’s international airport are now covered with carpet so thick luggage wheels almost won’t roll. I can remember vividly the drab customs lines in small, cramped hot rooms during my first visit here less than a decade ago. These have now been replaced by a huge room with no lines and crowds. There were even special customs lines for business and first class fliers which I’m not sure exist anywhere else in the world, since normally governments at least pretend that all coming to their borders are at least nominally equal.
Not in Delhi and not now.
Ps. One discordant voice from the Mail Today was Dipankar Gupta, a senior fellow at the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library whose piece, “Games city plays with the poor,” is in stark contrast to the Main Street boosterism everywhere. (http://epaper.mailtoday.in)