Although it is the capital of the largest democracy in the world, Delhi failed India in the Commonwealth Games this October—a quadrennial set of games that unite 71 teams from former states that were once under the British Empire. While the opening ceremonies received international acclaim, and the city’s new state-of-the-art airport was built with inspirational efficiency, the Games’ organizing committee did not uphold India’s international image as modern nation of innovation and excellence; instead it shamed the nation’s citizens with its blatant corruption and incompetence.
Delhi, perhaps in its drive to accommodate the tourists following the Games, failed to ready itself for the competing athletes. Most visibly, the Commonwealth Village, which housed the nearly 6,100 athletes, boasted leaking bathrooms, scattered feces, and wild dogs. Ticket sales were reportedly lower than expected. These embarrassing stories legitimized the quiet and loud ridicule by other governments and their athletes concerning the lack of discernable official concentration toward the Games. Although the Western media might have been overly critical, the seeds of their criticism were still rooted in truth.
And how can India defend itself? The Indian Olympic Association’s initial estimation of hosting costs total less than six percent of the newly reported price tag. Although miscalculation is one possible cause for this massive overspending, widespread corruption seems to have been one of the reasons for this strong underestimation. As per reports of treadmills costing $20,000, air-conditioners at $8,900, and umbrellas at $130, corruption seems to have jacked up pricing. The Organizing Committee appears to have adopted the habits of poor bureaucracy from the national government—an issue that has long frustrated Indian citizens. Now those citizens have seen those federal ineptitudes on an international stage, as the national media exposed each of the disappointing and avoidable failures during the preparatory stages.
Admittedly, Delhi made tremendous infrastructural steps during its preparations toward becoming the kind of refined portal India needs to greet foreign dignitaries. As a result of the Commonwealth Games, the city now has perhaps one of the most sophisticated subway systems in the world. Cleaner buses now drive through the streets. And, of course, the new, $2.7 billion Terminal 3 in Delhi Indira Gandhi International Airport will boost passenger traffic to 60 million visitors a year—and was even constructed in 37 months compared to the 45 months it took China to build its new Beijing terminal. Nevertheless, these changes, while admirable, were due a while back, and they were only forced to occur due to the international scrutiny that came from hosting an international sporting event.
And Delhi’s preparations do provide a distressing comparison, cliché though the juxtaposition might be, to Beijing’s pre-Olympic renovations. Communist capital of the world’s largest state, Beijing secured international recognition for its near-flawless execution of the 2008 Olympics. While China benefits from an authoritarian government—one so strong that it decided to ban domestic text messages bearing the most recent Nobel laureate’s name—its level of commitment toward presenting an incredible image of its country showed a level of pride and unity that was lacking in Delhi this year.
As an Indian-American who has spent a great majority of his vacation time traveling in India, experiencing the grassroots culture in many (but far from all) regions, I know that India is a complex nation. Its diversity is at times nearly overwhelming and makes the country sometimes feel more like a continent. But the nation still stands together—the nation still is proud. But the mismanagement of an event of such international note obscures that pride. That disservice is inexcusable.
Gautam Kumar ’13, a Crimson news writer, lives in Cabot House.