Friday, 24 September 2010

‘Brand India’ and (yet another) Commonwealth Games rant (with a Pakistani twist)!

Yes, I confess, I cannot resist writing about the Indian Commonwealth Games saga! The whole affair just reveals so much about India that it is worth incurring the risk of being labelled 'biased' by readers.

Nehru and Gandhi - independent India's first Prime Minister and founder (left and right respectively)

India successfully bid for the right to host the Commonwealth Games in November 2003, a good seven years ago. Seven years is normally long enough for good marriages to turn sour. One would think it's also a sufficient period of time to prepare for a reasonably sized international event.
The Commonwealth Games are not the Olympic Games or the Football World Cup. The 2006 Commonwealth Games held in Australia boasted 5,766 athletes and officials. By contrast, Beijing hosted over 11,000 athletes (not including non-athlete delegates) for the 2008 Olympics.
Now, I could write profusely about the mismanagement of the Delhi Commonwealth Games but everyone reads the papers.
We all know about the brand new bridge collapsing, the ceiling at an indoor stadium falling and an Australian journalist walking past several layers of security with an oversized suitcase containing a bomb detonation kit!
All delegates are aware of the security risks, especially after the shooting of a couple of Taiwanese tourists. The 'different' hygiene standards to which the athlete villages have been constructed are irking to some and dengue fever breeding grounds  to others.
But I will not belabour the point simply because as a 'Pakistani-Singaporean' or 'Singaporean-Pakistani,' I tread cautiously in all matters Indian. I don't want readers to just 'switch off' because they believe what I say is a part of the ongoing (often childish) bickering between the two nations.
Yes, from time to time I touch upon Indian politics. It is practically impossible to write about Pakistan without referring to its giant eastern neighbour. Oddly enough, one can write encyclopaedias about Iran, Pakistan's western neighbour, and make only passing references to Pakistan. (I imagine that has something to do with the map of 'Mother India' carved out by sixteenth century Moghul emperors.)
In Pakistan, most know that to get something done the military is the only option. The mission may be the Engineering Corps building a (non-collapsing) bridge, or the Special Services Group clearing out militants from a red brick mosque complex in Islamabad – the objective itself is irrelevant.
If the task is to be completed then the civilian bureaucracy is not the answer! If the desire is to issue press releases and make a lot of noise then the civilian bureaucracy is ideal.
Seven years, many cost overruns and project delays later, the bureaucracy will feed itself some more by creating a 'High Powered Commission' to investigate why the project was not completed in the first place; fodder for academics that will read and study the commission's findings.
Books will be written, the blogosphere will buzz and seminars will be held – but nothing will be accomplished.
But I digress. That's Pakistan, the thirtieth most food insecure nation in the world. The state the world kicks around and blames for all international terrorism.

Percentage of world's population living on less than USD 1 per day (2007-2008)

Source: United Nations, retrieved from Wikipedia

Not India. India is the thirty-first most food insecure state in the world. But it's a vibrant democracy with a robust legal system. A land full of billionaires named Tatas and Ambanis, of Bollywood and class mobility.
Not a country blighted with regularly scheduled racial and religious riots. Not a soft state grappling with multiple insurgencies, Maoist and otherwise.
Caste systems no longer exist – they were legislated away subsequent to Nehru's tryst with destiny.
No, India is a world power worthy of a United Nations Security Council seat, a state at peace with each and every one of its many neighbours. Like the United States, India should have the right to veto Security Council resolutions condemning its future military incursions into neighbouring states to uphold its right of self defense.
I suspect Gandhi would not be happy. Gandhi would certainly be spending more time at his spinning wheel on a hunger strike, publicising the plight of the country's forgotten one billion.
But I must make another confession before concluding.
It's true, if my late father was a Kashmiri Hindu pandit I too would be revelling in the glory of 'Brand India.' I would not need to regularly defend Pakistan's track record against terrorism.
But my father was a Kashmiri Muslim who migrated to Pakistan at partition. Had my father remained in India, in all likelihood I would be dodging Indian military bullets while protesting on Srinagar's burning streets.
Not blogging from a clinically secure Singapore.   
Post Script: It's important to note that the Commonwealth Games are yet to be held. None should prejudge the outcome before they occur – they may still be the most successful Commonwealth Games to date. Let us hope so.


  1. Just a thought. Gandhi wasn't the founder of modern India. Rather, he was the founder of both modern India and Pakistan.

    The division between either was the work of Jinnah, amongst others. But it was Gandhi, amongst others, who sought and acquired the independence of the land later divided as India and Pakistan. The division was a technicality, and wasn't necessary for independence to be acquired. That's an important point. You could say that Jinnah et al basically claimed possession of a portion of that which Gandhi et al had acquired for ALL of the peoples of India.

    The partition should never have been. They should have learnt to live together. Well, that's India for you. My mom always thought it ridiculous that the partition was allowed to happen.

    India was always a federation of difference since before the time of Christ or Confucius and which accounts for the superiority in a number of intellectual aptitudes compared to their chinese counterparts - monoculturalism never bred great minds be it in the family or the state. Evicting the brits, and the partition later, was the first major deviation from an otherwise extremely laudable multicultural history. India, in its ancient essence, ceased to be from thereon - and i did write once that the macaques in India were more indian than the indians.

    I personally don't recognise pakistanis as pakistanis, or bangladeshis as bangladeshis. All are Indian. But, given time, and separate development, the difference could widen. Development can take an untoward direction when it is done whilst mindful that one is not of a particular race or nationality. People tend to discount quite a bit of ideas when that happens as their objective appreciation of things is clouded by racial/cultural/national bias. I'd rather a federation of difference as opposed to development by superficial contradistinction.

  2. Hi Solo Bear,

    Thank you for the link to my post. I am glad you found the article interesting.

    Enjoy your weekend,


  3. Hi Ed,

    Thank you for the very interesting comment.

    You have touched on some very complex and emotive issues. It is difficult to address all of them comprehensively.

    Nevertheless, I would like to make the following points:

    1. Jaswant Singh, a former Foreign Minister minister in the extreme Hindu BJP party government, recently wrote a comprehensive biography on Jinnah. He called Jinnah a 'Great Indian' - and was promptly expelled from the BJP. The point being that Jinnah tried to work within the Congress party, of which he was an active member until 1930 (if memory serves me correctly). Following Nehru's / Congress party's refusal to share power and form a coalition with the All-India Muslim League, despite the League's massive electoral victories (and Gandhi's encouragement) in several provinces, Jinnah was essentially forced to 'go it alone.' Hence, the Two Nation Theory - which did not come into vogue until quite late in the independence movement;

    2. The territory which comprises present day Pakistan was barely under the administrative control of the Britsh - other than a large swathe of Punjab. The point - what comprises modern day Pakistan has always been on the periphery of Delhi's reach - whether under the Moguls or the British (again barring much of Punjab);

    3. Your argument about Pakistanis and Bangladeshis, when taken to an extreme, suggests that there are no Singaporeans only Malaysians; or no Germans, Austrians, or Brits, only Europeans. It is important to understand that even within large administrative federations there are important cultural and linguistic differences which must be recognized. It is a self-evident truth that a Tamil and a Pathan or a Sindhi and a Bengali are distinct llinguistically, culturally, etc.- Indians only at a very basic level. And, that does not even take into account self-perceptions which are important in developing an identity.

    I believe what your comments are heading towards is an Indo-Pak admininstrative federation - something which I believe is far more practical in the Singapore - Malaysia cotext than South Asia.

    The blood spilled during the Partition left many wounds which may require at least another generation to heal.

    Your comments ar always thought provoking and I appreciate your taking the time to post - please do keep visiting and commenting.

    Best regards,