India: Commonwealth, Corruption and Congress

6th May, 2014

If you want to see some ground-level political activism from India, go no further than the online portal “I Paid A Bribe”. Their aim is to publish incidences of bribery and its sister plague corruption, collating a map of the worst-affected cities and states of India.

A brave, and novel idea. But unfortunately no such tool exists for corruption slightly higher up the ranks. Delhi’s Commonwealth Games in 2010 offers a clear example of just how high the graft reaches, and unfortunately, just how little India seems to care about this.

The international athletics tournament offered India the opportunity to present itself, or to be specific, Delhi as a city worth taking seriously, akin to Beijing’s success in 2008. This ultimately failed on almost all accounts.

The Congress Party, who were at India’s helm during this period must bear the responsibility for the lack of a Commonwealth legacy. Not only did the final total of £2.5 billion come in ten times over budget, but the accounting sheets were riddled with murky deals. The state of the venues in Delhi now is that they are un- or under-used to a large degree, and as of 2013, data showed that less than 1 per cent of Indians participate in any type of regular sport. The truth is that legacies do not just emerge after an event, spurred by a feel-good factor, but that a legacy needs as much planning as the event itself.

What is often feared about India was proven during this time. First, that corruption is present at all levels of society, and often buried deep, like the pipes in the wall of a house. Secondly, that when such corruption is revealed, it is rarely met with shouts for resignations, justice, inquiries, but something more like whispers which fade as the next corrupt deal is revealed.

There are bodies in India set up to be the town criers in these situations, namely the Central Vigilance Commission. Yet it took almost four years, and the personal beliefs of Arvind Kejriwal (leader of anti-corruption party Aam Adam Party) to bring this scandal back to the table. He called for an investigation into Sheila Dikshit, Delhi’s chief minister during the Games, and also a veteran Congress party leader.

Prior to this, it was only Chairman of the Games organizing committee and Congress party lawmaker, Suresh Kalmadi who was charged and jailed for just ten months on charges of corruption in the initial aftermath of the games.

The sad truth is that Congress’ shoddy, shady and subordinate dealings in the run up to the Games will not have a huge impact on its election results on May 12th. It is admirable for select individuals to demand hands-in-cuffs, but corruption will not be cured through any kind of personality cult or vendetta. These are not the times of Mahatma.

Institutions, parties, bodies and the press, both domestically in India and abroad need to work together to send the message that corruption at this institutional level is beyond unacceptable. India does not have many taxpayers, but the minority it has should be more outspoken on how their money is spent, or to be more accurate, squandered.

No election campaign benefits from a historical slanging match, yet the opposition parties of BJP and AAP should use Congress’ categorical failure during the Games to their advantage. Without joining together to be clear on what is ‘wrong’, Indian institutions and politics will fail to ever reach a consensus on what is ‘right’ for India.