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India’s Tamboo Mentality a Games Too Far?

Op-Ed Commentary: Chris Devonshire-Ellis

Sept. 23 – As the last minutes tick away for India to knock the Commonwealth Games into shape, one has to wonder at the cause of what it has become obvious is a major failing within the Indian political system. With a 48 hour deadline imposed for Delhi to get its act together or risk having the Games canceled – an unimaginable disaster for the national prestige – a self analysis over what has gone so badly wrong needs to be undertaken. Should the Games fail, it is also indicative of the failings of the “world’s largest democracy,” a label India wears with pride but is apparently unable to use properly to advance the nation into the 21st century.

A core issue may well be the “tamboo” mentality when it comes to the Commonwealth Games. As a one-off event, it may be likened to the tamboo, or tent, that many Indians erect on days of pageantry such as weddings or similar society events. Erected for a short time, put up on a temporary basis, then pulled back down again when everyone goes home, this tent mentality appears to be the type of attitude that many have attributed to the Commonwealth Games. Yet that is simply not sufficient for a sporting event that attracts participants from over 70 nations and territories and sees thousands of participating athletes.

India’s politicians have certainly dithered. Awarded the Games in 2003, serious work did not begin on venues and infrastructure until five years later. That has left the country way behind in construction and organization, and has apparently led to shortcuts being taken in construction. An access bridge collapsed last week, injuring over 30 workers, some critically, while part of the roof of the boxing and wrestling arena collapsed two days ago. The athletes’ vllage has been described as “uninhabitable” by many observers. Hardly surprisingly, individual athletes are beginning to withdraw; they may well be followed by national teams.

No doubt fingers will be pointed and people will blame each other. But the political wrangling, corruption and utter incompetence demonstrated by those responsible should not go unpunished. If by some miracle the Games do manage to proceed without hitch, and that’s looking increasingly unlikely, then nothing less than the resignations of everyone from the minister of sports to the head of the organizing committee, Suresh Kalmadi, plus all associated with them should be demanded. Investigations into alleged corruption should not just stop at lower ranking officials either, and if those at the very top are found complicit they should be put on trial and jailed.

The debacle is certain to roll on and on. If the worst does happen, then it may yet prove a blessing in disguise for India to root out the incompetence of its politicians, seemingly more interested in using the Games for personal profit than for national prestige. After all, who cares if the Games doesn’t actually take place if corrupt money for construction contracts has already flowed into offshore bank accounts? For many, the Games has already been a success in terms of personal enrichment. That mentality deserves to be punished. In China, the death penalty would apply.

The government will need to take a very strong stance indeed if this gift to the nation is not to have been frittered away by the tamboo politicians who only saw it as a means to lining their bank accounts at the expense of gaining a great international honor and prestige. If true, such individuals are not Indians, they are parasites. The strongest punishments should apply.

Chris Devonshire-Ellis is the principal and founding partner of Dezan Shira & Associates, establishing the firm’s China practice in 1992 and the India practice in 2007. The firm now has ten offices in China and five in India. For advice over China-India strategy, trade, investment, legal and tax matters please contact the firm at [email protected]. The firm’s brochure may be downloaded here. Chris also contributes to Asia Briefing’s other titles, India Briefing, China Briefing and Vietnam Briefing.

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14 Responses to India’s Tamboo Mentality a Games Too Far?

  1. Christian says:

    India championed in empty rhetoric failing thereby both in protecting human rights or delivering the growth impetus; China delivered without caring how people within or outside felt on its style of delivery. India never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity; China created and grabbed opportunities. China is the future market whereas India is the future…and that’s all it will ever be! India is a failed state and the biggest lemon being oversold to the world!

  2. Chris Devonshire-Ellis says:

    India’s hardly a failed state, it just has corruption problems. Word in from Delhi is that the Games will proceed, but for sure there is talk of massive corruption issues which are at the root of the problem. I’d like to know what they thought they were doing between 2003 and 2008 in getting prepared. I suspect the answer is sifting through contracts and deciding who gets what and where it goes. At least in India the media reports it. Such activities do go on in China – but the government has a habit of muzzling the press. It makes things look better for China, and worse for India. The reality lies inbetween. Thanks – Chris

  3. Chris Devonshire-Ellis says:

    India’s Home Ministry has just issued a statement here saying the Organizing Committee has 24 hours to complete all outstanding work, reiterated by the Delhi Gvt to complete all work on the Athletic Village. Police from elsewhere have also been deployed to assist. That gives a deadline of close of tomorrow (Friday).

  4. The_Observer says:

    It wasn’t just a matter of perception and media handling of the Chinese for the Olympic games. She had the Olympics facilities finished a year ahead of schedule.

  5. CanucKapoor says:

    I am visiting India from Canada because a relative of mine is slated to compete in the games. I was advised seriously and continuously against such a patently suicidal and foolish move, but chose to stand and cheer my relative and other countrymen.

    However, now that I’m actually in India, I hope that the games do get called off, because I would rather suffer a few moments of embarrassment than see friends and relatives get seriously injured or killed in avoidable accidents, and live with the loss for the rest of my life.

    If you think I’m being melodramatic, remember that four of the injured workers on that collapsed bridge are fighting for their lives right now. How supportive of the games would their relatives be at this moment?

  6. Deek says:

    I am an Indian Citizen, and I would make some points:

    1. Project Management in India is in very very bad shape (some exceptions: IT, Telecom etc)

    2. Media: Despite being claimed as open and outspoken, where was the media between 2003 and 2008? It is as much a failure of media as that of politicians.

    3. Political in-fightings lead to mismanagement and delays. This is a classic example of that.

    Having said that, I am in favor of Games being canceled. If that happens, there will be a huge hue-n-cry from the hype-loving Indian Citizens. That probably might be the beginning of the change that is required for the country.

  7. Chris Devonshire-Ellis says:

    Breaking news, the British teams are flying in and will stay in hotels until the Village is cleaned up, but several New Zealand athletes have pulled out. Some nations still undecided whether to come or go. Complaints also from Indian athletes who have viewed the facilities. My gut feeling from talking to people in Delhi is that the Games will proceed, but individual athletes may opt out.

  8. Chris Devonshire-Ellis says:

    Appears the Australians are also happy with it now. Crisis apparently averted. Typical India. Let’s hope so.

  9. fedelio says:

    Dear Sirs,

    I’m an Indian citizen. I also believe people should be held accountable and punished appropriately. Its true some politicians are not worthy at all.

    I cannot accept this title “India’s Tamboo Mentality a Games Too Far”. By giving such a title you are tarnishing the image of the whole country. This evokes nothing much, apart from some rash and disoriented comments.

    I have had the opportunity to travel and stay for a longer duration at most of the prominent places in India. We’ve to experience the macro and socio-economic problems that India faces.

    Some of the main problems that we face…
    1. Troubled Neighborhood.
    I’m not sure, about your location and about some of the locations of those who’ve written comments. I’m not being paranoid in saying that we’ve troubled neighborhood from almost all sides. The border is huge and challenging and a significant amount is spent to protect it, but still its not enough.

    People of other countries and regions should consider themselves lucky that they do not have such huge problems.

    2. Diversity: The country is huge with 1.1 billion plus population with numerous dialects and many religions and faiths which are practiced freely.

    It is not easy to handle such large number of aspirations and ambitions.

    There are many other pulling factors that are keeping us down.

    All these facts mentioned above do not take away the responsibility of the people to work in an appropriate manner, but they do affect in some way or the other.

    NRIs who do not want to do anything for India’s development, but pay regular visits only to curse again. Please stay back and enjoy the event on television. Majority of such people complete their graduate education in India, leave to foreign countries saying they are going to study abroad to come back and develop India. Nobody comes back, but they do send huge money to stuff only their homes here.

    People wishing the cancellation of games, should try and imagine, if their daughter’s wedding is called off.

    Please let the games begin and complete. We may not get a perfect score, but I as an Indian citizen feel that we’ll give our best shot.


  10. ajay says:

    Hopefully everything will go smoothly from here on. This mess sums up what is the attitude in colleges/university and so on. When i was studying for bachelors degree, the thing that was most admired in a student was the ability to ace exams by starting to study just a day before the exam date. There were students who actually did excellent by studying just a day, and they were respected most. This phenomenon of being considered smart led many students to try to be like those super-smarts and that lead to failures. So the thing why Indians (not all) try to leave stuff for the last moment starts (mostly) in colleges. To leave the stuff for the last moment finally takes the toll. This commonwealth Games is just an example of that attitude. Apart from this, there is an obviously very uneven talent pool because of the lack of education. Bad things like corruption, dithering etc will only go away with arrival of new generation or later.
    Anybody who knows India should not be surprised by these things and anyone saying India not doing good, well thats relative. India is in a way better situation than it was in 90s. You have to seen it to believe it.
    About China, i read mostly the good stuff like its gdp increase per year, but Economist’s comparison (4-6 months ago) of poverty removal showed faster rate of reduction in poverty for India than China. But there is no denying who is way ahead in infrastructure. But again, that makes me wonder where does that huge advantage of good infrastructure went? It certainly did not trickled to poor Chinese people, or did it? May be upper class gained everything. If this is true, then the famous saying from Animal farm- “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

  11. Chris Devonshire-Ellis says:

    Thanks Ajay, For sure, China has built utterly useless infrastructure that are just massive white elephants, and that has been a growing trend. Entire cities have sprung up for 5 million with an actual population of 100,000, I’ve seen them. Plus China’s actual required infrastructure is not enough to cope with the boom in traffic. So much money has been wasted there.
    For India, the infrastructure issue will sort itself out over time. People often say to me “India’s problem is it’s infrastructure”. It’s true – but it’s also the opportunity. While China is embarking on a series of stupid projects and white elephants, India is putting into place some much needed urban renewal and this is already starting to have an impact. Thanks Chris

  12. Austin says:

    Chris, you sound very optimistic … Maybe TOO optimistic. Your name sounds English , but do you work for India PR?

  13. Jeffrey says:

    I am happy India is not going to host an Olympics soon, if ever. If the standards set by the preparations for the CWG are anything to go by we can safely assume that India is not ready. Not as a sporting nation, not as an economic developed superpower to be, not as a functioning democracy, not as anything.

    I just love the comments of the author that infra structure in India “will sort itself out” and that China has all these white elephant infra structure projects. I prefer to drive over a white elephant perfect highway instead of struggling from mud pool to pud pool on India’s roads. This issue is NOT going to sort itself out at all. This will remain a mess. If a country can not even prepare and execute quality projects within budget for the Games how on earth is it going to plan and execute the massive infrastructure needed for its 1,2 billion people?

    A nice one i read somewhere: China is the workshop of the world so they work, work, work. India is the IT capital of the world so they yak, yak, yak. Sort of sums it up.

  14. CanucKapoor says:

    Well, I for one am glad that things went as well as they did. Even if it didn’t exactly silence the naysayers, at least the games made them wait until the end. Don’t write India off yet! Or rather, wait and see what they do with the corruption investigations.

    By the way, any news about the bridge collapse workers in coma?

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