Our pot-holed system breeds treadmillionaires
By M J Akbar
After long and in-depth research, full of arduous travel to tedious destinations such as Singapore, Bali, Los Angeles, New York, London and Berlin — with a difficult weekend side-trip to Helsinki — an all-party parliamentary delegation has come to the incontrovertible conclusion that it only rains in India.
The logic is irrefutable. If rain fell on other cities, their roads would also crumple like Commonwealth Games toilet paper. Since no London becomes a moon track with one rainfall, it obviously never rains in London.
Fie on those who think that only Delhi surrenders to water-riven weather. The ‘low way’ (it began as a highway) between Mussoorie and Delhi is a very democratic drive. It begins in BJP khand, swerves through BSP queendom and then zigzags into Congress empire. This national artery gets a nervous breakdown in Uttarakhand, then descends into nightmarish trauma in UP. By the time it enters Delhi, it has an incurable split personality. It should be renamed after Freud.
We are a curious nation. For nine months we pray for the monsoon, and the moment our prayers are answered, we have no idea what to do. It is as if the showers came once a century rather than once a year.
You don’t need to summon Agatha Christie to solve the plot. Most of our roads are constructed for annual destruction, since there is more money to be made in rebuilding than in building. Governments are not merely hand-in-glove with contractors; they are hand-in-pocket. Shared loot is safe loot.
Contractors are not particularly worried about the law; they have lawyers with Satyam on their tongues. A congenial cynic suggested that it was time Parliament passed legislation decreeing that anyone worth more than Rs 1,000 crore would automatically be given bail. Businessmen make money all over the world. The difference is the distance between profit and avarice. The first has limits; greed has none.
In our country, corruption has become mainstream; honesty is a rivulet, which is why the System has developed such sophisticated expertise at deflecting street anger. The game is played out in full public view, and we do not see hypocrisy trapping us in slow motion.
What does the System do when it does not have an answer? It changes the question.
Witness how the rage against corruption in CWG has been manoeuvred into a debate on whether they can be held successfully. Who was responsible for this delay in the first place? Even this question has been diverted. The Organizing Committee, reorganized with some sticking plaster, is being reinvented from villain to victim of mysterious forces. We do not know if any race in CWG will see a nail-biting finish, but certainly the preparation has acquired a nail-biting dénouement.
Fudge is offered instead of explanation. The previous government, it is declared in stentorian tones, took the decision to hold the Games in Delhi. So? The previous government did not decide to hire treadmills for a few weeks at many times their retail price. Instead of treadmills, we have treadmillionaires.
A committee of 10 wise bureaucrats is appointed as the scourge to destroy evil and shepherd the Games towards a shining heaven. What has the committee been tasked to do? To “solve coordination problems…ensure completion…furnish progress reports…tie up loose ends”. In other words, to do within 45 days what should have been done over 45 months.
The simple fact is that they cannot take any decisions because all the decisions have already been taken during The Era of Evil — apart perhaps from a catering contract and sponsorship, the second of which is a revenue decision rather than a spending one. A government committee, incidentally, will provide excellent cover for the return of public sector sponsors.
The critical issue lies elsewhere. Indians are not against the Games; they are against corruption in the Games. Can this committee reverse any of the deals that have been exposed remorselessly by media? Will it return, without payment, the treadmills to those who have become treadmillionaires? Sanctimonious noises about the guilty being punished after the event are meaningless. How? If a contract has been sealed at a particular price by mutual consent, and then executed, how can the contractor be held guilty of malpractice? This is more dust in the eyes of a nation already semi-blind with sleaze.
Suresh Kalmadi was quite right to flash a V-sign after the “accountability” meeting at the Prime Minister’s residence on Thursday afternoon. The scapegoats in his committee have paid the necessary price. None of their decisions have been altered, since there were too many others clinging to the food chain. Nothing has changed, apart from the touch of a few cosmetics that barely hide the accumulated debris of deals. Long live the System.
Unless, of course, it rains on the parade in October.