Vinoth Ramachandra

Archive for August 20th, 2010

Australia’s former swimming legend Dawn Fraser has called on Australian athletes to boycott the Commonwealth Games to be held in Delhi in October. If her call issued from moral outrage at the atrocities committed by the Delhi municipal authorities against the poor (see the previous post, “The Invisible”, written by my wife), or the large-scale siphoning of funds into private pockets, then that call would be both understandable and deeply commendable.

But, no. Fraser’s appeal is based on nothing more than ordinary, self-centred fear: the fear of “terrorism”. She is fearful that the Indian authorities lack the ability to protect the Australian athletes from suicide-bombers and other forms of terror. Fraser’s self-enclosed little world is the mirror image of the self-enclosed world of the Indian political and business elites. The latter care not a whit for the 800m poor in their country.  They want the Games to be a lavish spectacle in order to show off the corporate image of a “shining India” to the rest of the world. The local profit-inspired terror that destroy the lives or livelihoods of countless poor people does not register on anybody’s radar. The only terror that seems to matter is what is foreign and affects the rich.

Sonia Gandhi, the former Indian premier, has stated that the Games are a matter of Indian “national pride”. But, surely, a nation should take pride in the kind of society  its citizens build together, not in the achievements of a few at the expense of others. When a nation’s “pride” or global “status” depends on possessing nuclear weapons, or sending rockets to the moon, or successfully hosting international sporting events, rather than the ability to feed its population, defend their human dignity or promote social harmony, then we are witnessing what the Biblical prophets called Idolatry.

Idols blind people to what is truly important in life. They lull people into a false and fragile security. They enslave whole societies, making them addicted to patterns of behaviour that are eventually self-destructive. They create fear in the hearts of their worshippers, not joy and a desire for social justice.

The Indian “new rich” and the super-rich seem so insecure that they desperately need their collective egos massaged by the “international community”. (Hence their fury at the film Slumdog Millionaire which showed an India which they would prefer remained covered up).

How refreshing, then, to read a recent piece by the renowned Indian novelist and journalist, Pankaj Mishra, published in the British newspaper The Guardian Weekly (6-12 August 2010).  Mishra calls to task the British government for pandering to the vanities of Delhi’s affluent class. Following David Cameron’s recent state visit, British weapons manufacturers are selling more arms to India’s burgeoning “military-industrial complex”. India’s massive defence budget “which grew by an unprecedented 34% last year and is almost entirely exempt from parliamentary scrutiny or public debate”, observes Mishara, “is an exclusive bonanza for India’s alarmingly numerous corrupt politicians, bureaucrats and army officers. Delhi’s opulent five-star hotels swarm with lobbyists for Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Dassault and other arms companies.”

Mishra further notes that this is “particularly disturbing as the expensive new weapons are likely to be turned against people India claims as its own- and not just in the valley of Kashmir where an anti-Indian insurgency has consumed more than 80,000 lives, and where Indian security forces have shot dead 17 Muslim protesters, mostly teenagers, in just the past six weeks. The Indian government is also considering deploying the army and air force to suppress the growing Maoist rebellion [in central India].”

I can only hope that the Dawn Frasers and other athletes of the world, present and former, will read commentators  like Mishra. Whether this will make a difference to their participation in the Commonwealth Games is, of course, their choice. But at least it should be a properly-informed choice.


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