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The ghost of games past August 17, 2011

Posted by southasiamasala in : India, Stoddart, Brian , trackback

Brian Stoddart

There must now surely be moments when senior political figures like Manmohan Singh and Sheila Diksit wish they had never heard of let alone promoted the Commonwealth Games.  Suresh Kalmadi, the disgraced politician and former supremo of the Organising Committee for the Delhi Games would be among the lamenters as he languishes in Tihar jail awaiting trial on corruption charges, and dealing with what might well be dementia.

The arrests roll on.  The latest include two principals of the Indian subcontracting company associated with Swiss Timing, the alleged beneficiary of one of the flawed tender processes in which Kalmadi is said to have been corrupt.  Another issue already out in the open concerns the award of two media contracts in India, the inference being that bribes were involved.  A further report, by a television journalist who “broke” the story about the London relay scam, has officials under Kalmadi’s direction being amazed by media interest in relatively small sums of money (in their view) going missing when much bigger sums were involved elsewhere in the organisation.

Several other possible embarrassments lie in wait.  They include five contracts awarded to Events Knowledge Services (EKS), privatised off from the International Olympic Committee and run by Craig McClatchey, former Secretary General of the Australian Olympic Committee.  EKS was brought in late in the piece when it seemed things were so bad that Delhi might even lose the Games.  The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) report suggests that three of the contracts were awarded by direct nomination rather than by tender, with the other two won under terms of reference biased towards EKS.  Those done by direct nomination were said to be by Kalmadi under the influence of the Commonwealth Games Federation with which EKS has been closely associated.

Kalmadi was cut loose by the Government in advance of the appearance of several inquiry reports like that from the CAG, the idea being he might take all the blame and the hubbub would subside.  Now, though, there are strands of analysis that see Kalmadi as a genuine “fall guy” whose eventual conviction might not protect even more senior people.  The CAG report has found widespread, systematic and substantial corruption, and any reasonable conclusion might well be that Kalmadi alone could not have been solely and totally responsible.  True, the Lieutenant Governor of Delhi has already gone because of his apparent role in a massively incompetent/corrupt development of the Games village, but until now that was considered more of an outlier event than part of a web.

The apparent new possibilities of even more senior scalps, like that of Diksit, have been fed by mounting attacks on the increasingly enfeebled UPA Government and its arguably poor record in dealing with corruption.  The Games fiasco is lined up with the 2G scam, and now enriched by the Anna Hazare protest against corruption imbroglio, and Government opponents are in full cry. The CWG issue is a main contributor to the now apparently unworkable nature of the parliament, as reported on Twitter by politicians so different as Shashi Tharoor (himself trailed by alleged financial irregularities in an Indian Premier League franchise) and Vijay Mallya, the Kingfisher boss.

As the new parliamentary session opened the Rajya Sabha opposition leader, Arun Jaitley, aimed straight at the top.  Who was responsible for all this, he asked amidst the mounting noise and protest?  The Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh.  The Prime Minister, claimed Jaitley, overrode everyone to ensure that Kalmadi was and remained the OC boss, that the structure of the Games organisation stayed fixed, and that all the agencies involved were ringfenced.  The Prime Minister was warned about Kalmadi by three successive Union Sports Ministers, Jaitley continued, but ignored and disputed all of them.  Jaitley, that is, directly linked the Government with the maladministration of the Games, effectively making Kalmadi the prawn rather than the whale.

Predictably the Government has fought back, and with some ammunition.  The CAG report was vague, even silent about how it was that Kalmadi became appointed.  Considerable confusion arose about whether or not he was appointed by virtue of his role as head of the Indian Olympic Academy, by way of a rigorous selection process, or at the behest of the Commonwealth Games Federation.  That confusion has gone further, because the UPA is now arguing that Kalmadi’s Games position was really set in concrete by the preceding NDA government.

The point here is obvious: blame has to be shifted.  That is because the fate of people senior even to Kalmadi might be at risk.

Risk there is, too, because as the reports emerge some findings are creating considerable discomfort.  As the future of the Games fell into doubt, for example, the Government reacted by creating the Group of Ministers that would oversee proceedings, with the clear mandate to watch over Kalmadi’s activities and those of his organisation.  Prominent Government Minister S. Jaipal Reddy (Minister for Higher Education among other things) chaired that group at over thirty meetings.  Critics now ask, after the event, that if the group was doing its job how come Kalmadi continued to behave in the way now alleged?

Jaipal Reddy is not the only potential victim here, of course, because Sheila Dixsit’s role in Delhi is a prime problem for the Union Government.  The Delhi Government has responded sharply to all the CAG allegations of irregularity, graft, slack accounting and poor project control, but Dixsit remains in trouble as does anyone who was near or at the top of bodies like the Union Urban Development Ministry and the Delhi Development Corporation.

It might be a touch too much to suggest that the Games issue on its own will determine the downfall of the Manmohan Singh Government, but there can be no doubt it will form a central and determining role in how the fate of this Government is played out over the coming period until the scheduled 2014 elections.

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