If the world can’t even feed its children, can it send people to the moon?
Sadanand Dhume’s article entitled “Debacle in New Delhi” was published in Foreign Policy recently. In the context of the fracas of the Commonwealth Games about to held in the Capital, Mr. Dhume’s article asks, “[h]ow can India be a superpower if it can’t build a bridge?” (an apparent reference to the collapse of a bridge near the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium).
A couple of days ago, Ploughshares Fund president Joe Cirincione questioned the safety of India’s nuclear plants, again, against the backdrop of “India’s” apparent inability to build safe bridges (though, to be fair to Mr. Cirincione, he later apologized for making the comment, having been roundly pilloried by one and all).
The Games are a complete and utter mess. This is true. Anyone and their brother will hurl at you figures showing how much India has spent over and beyond its original budget. Stray animals roam the streets. Trees are being cut like they went out of fashion two years ago. Roofs collapse, so do beds. And Mani Shankar Aiyar is running out of people to attack.
But is this India’s fault? Did the same entity that built the bridge that collapsed also make India a power? Many writers on the subject are painting with very broad strokes.
India is a power today not because of its government, but because of its private enterprise. In fact, one of the unfortunate repercussions of the meteoric rise of India’s private sector is the singular incapability of the government to keep pace with the fillip provided to India’s global profile by its private enterprise. India, many say, grows not because of its government, but despite it. True, were it not for economic reforms instituted by the Congress, beginning in 1991, India’s private enterprise would not have succeeded like it has. But the government of the day chose to liberalize the economy only when faced with the possibility of bankruptcy.
These are issues that India — and the rest of the world — have always been well aware of. India’s government is severely challenged to govern an India of 2010. The inefficiencies in government are well known — a bloated cabinet, archaic civil services, decrepit police services, lack of adequate parliamentary oversight, the list is endless — add in corruption and large levels of public apathy, and you have a recipe for disaster. To a large extent, when “public” governance was unable to affect its citizens, “private” governance stepped in. Had a consortium of India’s companies been entrusted with managing, building and delivering the Commonwealth Games project, perhaps the situation might have been different. This is all water under the bridge now.
Dileep Premachandran’s article in The Guardian argues that the Commonwealth Games fiasco shows all that is wrong with sport in India. Actually, it shows all that is wrong with government in India. The question that needs to be asked is, what will happen after the games conclude (by some miracle, without incident). Heads will roll, no doubt, but not of those that matter. Temporary public outrage will subside, and return to its default position of apathy — we’ve seen this script before.
Even if public anger didn’t subside, by some miracle, and is reflected in subsequent elections, is there a national party in India that can replace the UPA? And even if such a party existed and was voted into power, would it have the courage and political will to institute the kinds of sweeping reforms necessary to bring governance in India into the 21st century? And if it didn’t, would India’s citizens even care? There are no easy answers.