10/4/10

Delhi CWG 2010 - An Orgy of Excess

. 10/4/10

The picture of elitist ‘India’ is indeed shiny, but the picture of poor ‘Bharat’ is tattered.

More than 68000 inside the specially renovated and decorated Jawhar Lal Nehru Stadium and more than 2 billion on the television sets witnessed a spectacular, marvellous, colorful opening ceremony of the 19th Commonwealth Games. The picture of urban state was vibrant and bright. The world is delighted by the view of new India, sooner going to join the elite status of a ‘Superpower’.

Mike Davis' stunning book, Late Victorian Holocausts, [also ought to be required reading in every Indian school] gives us a scathing account, for instance, of the Viceroy Lord Lytton. All through the autumn of 1876, while the kharif crop was withering in the fields of southern India, Lytton had been absorbed in organising the immense Imperial Assemblage in Delhi to proclaim Victoria Empress of India." The weeklong feast for 68,000 guests, points out Davis, was an orgy of excess. It proved to be "the most colossal and expensive meal in world history." Through the same week as this spectacular durbar, "100,000 of the Queen Empress' subjects starved to death in Madras and Mysore" alone.

Wasn’t the CWG show was an orgy of excess! In fact, barring the scale, it all sounds depressingly like the present. In terms of ideology and principle at least. Thousands of farmers have killed themselves as the agrarian crisis deepens. Tens of millions have seen their livelihoods destroyed. They now hotfoot it to the cities in hope of succour. Massive amounts of grain were exported, even as grain per Indian fell to the levels of the great Bengal famine. And with all the misery in the countryside, the elite orgy of excess goes on.

The picture of elitist ‘India’ is indeed shiny, but the faded picture of poor ‘Bharat’ is tattered.

The world was sitting up and taking notice of India because the good news stories were coming at a faster clip than before. Finally India was in a position it had long pined for: from being known as a country of little hope and few jobs, it was now acknowledged as a country with a future and one that took away the burden of ‘First World’. From being a geopolitical minnow, it was badgering the world for a permanent seat in the Security Council of the United Nations. And by playing host to the CWG and other major events since, in strident celebration for the “have-nots” and ‘been-slighteds’ of the world, India also appeared to have arrived at a neat balance of victor and victim.

This is what ‘Prosperous and Powerful India’ built around. But this ‘Prosperity’ and feeling of ‘Power’ entirely missed in rural India, where three-quarters of the coutry’s 1.2 billion still live, and where about 300 million comprise landless agricultural labour, traditionally trod upon. According to the National Sample Survey Organization report, a similar number, which constitutes a third of the rural population, live on less than Rs. 12 a day (the lowest 10 per cent, or 3 million, live on less that Rs. 9 a day). In Orissa and Chhattisgarh, the proportion of rural people living on less than Rs. 12 a day is between 55 and 57 per cent; in Bihar, Jharkhand and Madhya Pradesh, it is between 46 and 47 per cent; even in relatively wealthy and happy Maharashtra and Karnataka, it is 30 and 32 percent respectively.

Doesn’t Rs. 100000 crore spent to organize this gala event, could have change the face of the ‘Bharat’ if spend at the right place???

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Unicef and te World Food Programme have other depressing statistics: Almost half of our under-five year olds are malnourished (46 percent). Despite gains, infant mortality remains among the highest in the world (57 deaths per thousand births) and maternal mortality is still at an astonishing 450 deaths per 100,000 births. Fifth of the total population of the country go hungry. Nearly three-quarters of the Indians still don’t have access to safe drinking water or sanitation. The largest single cause of death in India is still a common disease ‘diarrhoea’. India still satnds at the rank of 126 out of 176 in global Human Development Index. Reports by transparency International regularly list India as among the most corrupt nations in the world.

There is a steady growth in urban influx from rural areas, bringing with it a fallout of development that a few planned for. The story is not at all pretty in urban India. Mumbai is 60 per cent slum. In Delhi, there is a continuing political battle to ‘regularize’ vast illegal colonies of migrants, little more than tin shack and exposed brick laced with open sewer – many of which, in typical Delhi acronym are called JJ Colonies. It is how an estimate of 60 million Indians in large cities live.

‘Sorry India is not a superpower,’ Fortune magazine, usually upbeat about India this past decade, would scathingly reflect in an article by a top editor, Cait Murphy, quoting numbers of destitution to show that the country wasn’t much better off than some down and out African nations. Indeed, Murphy suggested that given how much India needed to fix before it could assume the pretension of a world power ‘that is probably the wrong ambition for it anyway.’





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