Shobhan Saxena, toi
Since very few people in this country have a sense of humour, we often fail to differentiate between a joke and a serious statement. And since TV channels are desperate 24x7 to play up anything sensational as breaking news, even a serious and sensitive remark is turned into a huge controversy within minutes. This is what happened with Mani Shankar Aiyar's statement on the Commonwealth Games. Speaking in Hindi, Aiyar said, "I am delighted in a way because rains are causing difficulties for the Commonwealth Games. Basically, I will be very unhappy, if the Games are successful because then they will start bringing Asian Games, Olympic Games and all these and we will spend thousands of crore on these stupid things." Aiyar was laughing when he made this statement outside Parliament House. Obviously he was cracking a joke. But, television channels turned him into a doomsday prophet in a matter of minutes. And then Suresh Kalmadi, the Bid Daddy of the Games, jumped into the row, calling Aiyar "irresponsible" and "anti-national."
Though he said what he said in a lighter vein, we can't miss the seriousness of Aiyar's statement. And though he made his charge against Aiyar very seriously, Kalmadi's response looks like a stupid joke. But it's dangerous too. Kalmadi seems to belong to that ideological school – a new, scary trend in this country – which is ready to label anyone who questions the present "development" model as anti-national. You protest against a dam, you are anti-national. You protest against the displacement of tribals from their land, you are anti-national. You protest against growing air pollution in the city, you are anti-national. You protest against real estate mafia grabbing agricultural land, you are anti-national. You protest against killing of innocent people by security forces, you are anti-national. You are protest against raping of women by armymen, you are anti-national. You speak against wastage of public funds, you are anti-national. You question the market fundamentalists, and you are anti-national.
Are we turning into a nation of paranoid people who see anti-national conspiracies everywhere? Can't we see the reality as it exists? Why can't we see the point Aiyar was trying to make. As an MP, he was raising the issue of colossal wastage of money (Rs 40,000 crore) on these games. He was talking about $100,000 the government of India paid to delegates from other Commonwealth countries to get the Games for Delhi. That was $7.5 million. Aiyar asked a simple question: Can a poor country like India spend so much money on a sporting event? And Suresh Kalmadi and gang can't tolerate it. They see it as anti-national because there is no other way to defend this squandering of public funds. In this country, you can attack anyone in the name of national security and development and get away with murder. In this country, you can defend the worst crimes by hiding behind national security and national pride and get away with murder.
The Commonwealth Games 2010 is a scandal. In a country with respect for rule of law and public accountability, people running this racket would be in jail. But here they are on TV screens every day bragging how Delhi is going to become a world-class city. And they never talk about the dark side of these games. It's ugly and dirty. The truth is that these games have made thousands of poor people homeless. They have been thrown out of the city. After the games, 15 lakh labourers working at construction sites now will have nowhere to go. With dug-up roads, debris, concrete pillars and clogged streets everywhere, the city looks like a mixture of Dhaka and Dresden after the bombing. The small people – rickshaw pullers, auto drivers, roadside vendors and chaiwallahs are not going to get anything out of this Rs 40,000 crore. They may also be thrown out of the city to make it look world class. Where has all the money gone? Should we have spent this money on a 13-day event?
Kalmadi and cronies may argue that the Games would give a boost to sports in the country and that's a good reason to spend the money. Totally wrong. As Aiyar said on TV, you first build a sporting culture in the country and then organize a sporting event. Imagine if all this money was spent on fields, coaches and equipment across the country – in villages, small towns and cities. It would have not only given us good sportsmen and sportswomen, it would have helped us in building stronger community ties across the nation. "That's what the Chinese did," Aiyar said on TV. But, our sports and political bosses have learnt some other tricks from the Chinese: throw the poor out of the city, demolish their houses, make swanky stadiums, don't be accountable to the people and crush democracy.
By speaking up against this scam, Mani Shankar Aiyar has done a great service to India. He is a true nationalist. And if he is "irresponsible" and "anti-national" because he dares to challenge those running this scam in the name of national pride, I would like to stand with him. I would be proud of being anti-national.