Hosting the Commonwealth Games was supposed to be a badge of honour for India’s ruling elite—a chance for the new superpower to shake off unhelpful images of “slumdogs” and replace them with “world class” stadiums.
India is shining they said—hoping that for a couple of weeks we can forget about the 830 million who live on less than 30 pence a day.
But it seems that facts are stubborn things and, as in so many countries where these mega sporting events occur, the games have become a poisoned chalice.
Collapsing bridges and pictures of half-built apartment blocks being patched up by gangs of child labourers have become their enduring symbol.
Of course, the British media were only too happy to embellish the story, playing on racist stereotypes of an incompetent, dirty nation.
They behaved as if the cream of British athletes were going to be forced into the most insanitary living quarters since soldiers of the Raj were pushed into the Black Hole of Calcutta.
The criticisms came after it was found that some toilets in the British dorms wouldn’t flush properly and a cat had left paw marks on a bed.
Contrast this to the reality of life for the majority living in India.
According to the Asian Development Bank, some 650 million Indians have no access to a proper toilet. Every day they are forced to shit in open sewers.
But their problems are not our concern. And now the story has moved on. “Security”, or lack of it, is the new fear. But here the authorities do have a plan. There are now 150,000 armed soldiers parading around New Delhi—more than the number of combat troops in Afghanistan. This week, in a bid to reassure the fearful, the air force flew sorties over the city.
This is desperate stuff from a ruling class anxious to project itself onto the winners’ podium. So far, however, their only medal is for self-promotion.