Game on, New Delhi!

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A new book explores harsh truths about the making of the Commonwealth Games, says Shantanu Guha Ray

A GRAND PLAN to clean up New Delhi for the Commonwealth Games (CWG) included a very long list of who is to be banished from Delhi. It started with stray dogs, slum dwellers and pavement squatters, but now includes cows, donkeys, goats, rats, snakes and even elephants and camels that are hired for festivals and fairs. All of this cost the government $65 million.

Anyone seeking reassurance that the CWG will be an automatic raging success had better look elsewhere, because this book recounts all the problems: massive cost over-runs, complex and cross-cutting organisations, ambition outstripping reality, and athlete interests running a distant second to national pride and individual ego. The authors argue that this state of affairs arises from three connected conditions: first, the Games were always more about showcasing the “new” India to the world than about sport and athletes. Second, key organisers were babes in the wood when it came to putting together such a mass event and spectacle. They vastly under- estimated costs, gave rise to financial irregularities. Third, government action caused friction with the interference weary sports administrators.

Majumdar and Mehta, who once cowrote a book on India at the Olympics, must know it’s not easy to relocate nearly 2,50,000 stray dogs and 45,000 cows. Yet, they argue for a beautification plan. The authors applaud the 26 new flyovers, 318 railway bridges, 775 lowfloor buses, the Delhi Metro’s new run in the suburbs and the new airport terminal handling 60 million passengers a year because they believe it will enrich the lives of Delhi’s natives. Almost in the same breath, the duo blame Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit for sweeping the poor — 1,20,000 beggars, 60,000 pavement squatters and 8,00,000 slum dwellers — under the carpet.

Majumdar and Mehta point out that there are different expectations about what Delhi “really needs to deliver”. UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand will expect state-of-theart facilities, and other countries, whose own facilities compare badly with India, will be happy either way. India’s economic significance need not be proved, but now the Games draw attention to India’s lacklustre organisation. Worse, it comes with highly publicised reassurances about opening up the economy and streamlining the bureaucracy.

The authors point out that the massive ‘incidental costs’ of the CWG is only a fraction of the cost of the Games. It actually could go up to $15 billion, seven times the cost of the previous event. Is this expenditure necessary in a city of 16 million just to see 10,000 athletes in 17 disciplines over 11 days? No one has the answer. The Games will happen but India’s bosses will nervously await the judgement of the Commonwealth.

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Left alone in a crumbling coffee house

Monobina Gupta tells a rich and compelling tale of Left politics, only failing when she succumbs to nostalgia, says Swapan Dasgupta

Comrade chronicler Monobina Gupta at home
Comrade chronicler Monobina Gupta at home

ENGAGEMENT WITH Left politics may well be compared to college romances: a few passionate years of intense involvement, followed by a steady process of detachment and finally, a bitter separation, as both sides realise they have evolved very differently. Western literature is replete with writings in the ‘God that failed’ genre, some crudely propagandist and others reeking of pain and regret over many wasted years. The theme of ‘betrayal’ resonates constantly from both sides and, ironically, adds to the romance of a movement that combines lofty idealism with callous disregard of human feelings.

Monobina Gupta’s study of Left politics isn’t another journalistic account of the impulses that made for the building of the CPM’s Red Fort in West Bengal. It is a semiautobiographical account of her own involvement with the CPM and the realisation that what she had endorsed was an intellectually deficient, power-hungry and uncaring party. Based on her own experiences, and those of many of her comrades, she tries to capture the degeneration and decline of Bengali Communism. It is a compelling, well- written narrative that goes some way in explaining West Bengal’s growing distaste for the CPM.

What comes through is a familiar horror story centred on a party that tries to own its cadre’s body and soul, suppress all traces of individualism and deny comrades the luxury of intellectual and emotional independence. Like a medieval church, the party is brutally intolerant of dissent and heresy. It not only discards the contrarian but accompanies the rejection with vilification.

Gupta’s book is rich in detailing the emotional turbulence of the renegades and revisionists, including their search for an alternative Left space. The chapter on Lalgarh is particularly instructive for its insights into the way the Maoists replicate the CPM’s wariness of movements from below.

The book is, however, somewhat sketchy in detailing the political intimidation mounted by the party and the state to maintain control. This is understandable. What attracted many people (including, I suspect, Gupta) is the headiness of belonging to a machine that was personified the ‘vanguard’. In the writings of Lenin and the political practice of Stalin, there was always a divergence between the party and the masses. The party was always the army of the enlightened, a status that always appealed to a Bengali bhadralok that flaunted its own superiority in a philistine- dominated world. The masses, on the other hand, were either voting fodder or a romantic abstraction.

What comes through is a familiar horror story of a party that tries to own its cadre’s body and soul

Gupta delves into Marxist theology to explain why the seeds of degeneration were in-built. Unfortunately, she doesn’t locate the CPM and its politics within the context of a bhadralok society that is itself in a state of decay. On the contrary, there is an unmistakable deification of the economic stagnation that is the hallmark of contemporary West Bengal after 30 years of Left rule. Like others in the Left, Gupta looks back a bit too self-indulgently at the world of coffee house politics, subtitled films and street protests — the symbols of Bengal’s wasted years.

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