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India Two Faces Of Modern India

Jan 6, 2005
Metro-Vancouver, B.C., Canada
Two faces of modern India

October 02, 2010
Ramesh Thakur - Toronto Star

Indians joke that their economy grows at night while the government sleeps. The federal and state governments have indeed been asleep at the wheel as a much foretold disaster loomed over the Commonwealth Games that begin in Delhi today.

The mismanagement, incompetence and corruption that have shamed the nation — a public relations disaster of epic proportions — are symptomatic of the old India that is gradually being left behind.

This crisis was necessary to break the irrational national and global exuberance over a rising and shining India. There are far too many governance deficits for anyone to be confident that India will not, yet again, look prosperity firmly in the face only to turn around and walk off in the opposite direction.

The two crucial and interlinked surviving ingredients of the bad old days are pervasive interference by politicians and rampant corruption.

They are magnified by shame-proof politicians and a resigned public acceptance of substandard services and products, a non-performing public sector and shady business practices.

Finally, there is no culture of striving for excellence in sports and athletics: Indian officials outnumber athletes at just about every Olympics.

Impressed by the dazzle and organizational mastery of the Beijing Olympics, official India thought it could compete in showcasing its prowess as the other rising power. All the buildings for the Games were due for completion in 2008 yet construction began only in late 2008. Neither Delhi’s chief minister, Sheila Dixit, nor Prime Minister Manmohan Singh showed any sense of urgency. Indeed Singh has been largely missing in action as PM for the last couple of years and there is a pronounced sense of national drift in the country. Himself absolutely clean, he has been unduly tolerant of non-performing and corrupt cabinet ministers.

The 2010 Delhi Games represent an opportunity missed for heir-apparent Rahul Gandhi to show his organizational talents and readiness to take over from Singh, just as Rajiv Gandhi took successful charge of the Asian Games in Delhi in 1982. Sadly, India’s much vaunted democracy will not come of age until its premier dynasty fades and merit takes over.

An untested junior politician, Suresh Kalmadi, was put in overall charge. He brought an astonishingly relaxed attitude reminiscent of Comical Ali as American forces advanced on Baghdad in 2003, insisting against all evidence and mounting complaints that everything would turn out all right.

In June last year, Dixit insisted that all projects would be complete 10 months ahead of time. Between them, the members of the organizing committee filled vacancies with friends and relatives. Competence and proven track records were entirely coincidental in the brazen scramble for nepotism.

The result has been clear for the whole world to see: vast cost overruns (from an initial estimate of $100 million U.S. to $6 billion!) laced with widespread and widely believed allegations of massive corruption; incomplete — and collapsing — construction; squalid conditions with no thought to global hygiene standards; a retreat into denial and delusional insistence that these will be the best Games ever; an attitude of victimhood that sees a global conspiracy to malign India; multiple lines of authority and command, and so on.

Indians would be shocked if, promises notwithstanding, those responsible for shaming and defaming India were actually called to criminal, judicial and political account after the Games.

Yet the debacle is only half the story.

There is indeed another India, largely driven by the private sector and the urban young. Unlike the older generation, they are impatient with India’s manifold shortcomings. They reject resigned acceptance of shoddy quality and poor service, insisting that India can and must compete against the best in the world.

Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Salil Tripathi notes that the Reliance group completed a $6.3 billion oil refinery project — the world’s sixth largest — under budget and ahead of schedule. Delhi’s showpiece new airport was completed on time by the private sector in July.

While the state-run domestic and international airlines suffer massive losses, the private airlines are thriving and Jet Airways is rated one of the best in the world. And the Indian media has been unsparing in shining the spotlight on corrupt and incompetent officials and politicians.

More pertinently,
in the last three years India has successfully stage-managed the far more complex T20 cricket games in the Indian Premier League. Again, led by the private sector under the leadership of the brilliant, dynamic and young — by the standards of Indian politicians, barely grown up — Lalit Modi. He, too, has run afoul of the establishment, but that’s another story.

The overall lesson: let the private sector manage large, logistically challenging events with the help of market incentives and free of colonization by the dead hand of the state.

Meanwhile, led by the private sector, the economy will continue growing annually at 8 per cent to 10 per cent and multinational firms will continue to expand the Indian base of their operations. The self-confident and sophisticated young of India will gradually take over from the hesitant and timid older generation.

Those who revel in India’s misfortunes should contain their schadenfreude.




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