August 6, 2010 / 10:39 AM / in 10 years

Government grapples with Commonwealth Games rows

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - From leaking venue roofs to inflated orders of taxis and mobile toilets, rows over New Delhi’s Commonwealth Games have prompted Indian soul-searching and piled pressure on the embattled ruling Congress party.

A view of the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium constructed for the 2010 Commonwealth Games is pictured during its inauguration ceremony in New Delhi July 27, 2010. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi/Files

Less than two months away, the event intended to showcase India’s rising global clout in the footsteps of the Beijing Olympics has jumped more than 17.5 times over its first budget estimate and raised concerns some venues will not be ready.

(For more Commonwealth stories, click here)

The main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party have seized on corruption allegations to pan the ruling Congress Party, already grappling with protests over price hikes and the prospect of a separatist uprising in Kashmir.

And the problems with the venues have underscored India’s infrastructure woes, long seen as a drag on growth in Asia’s third-largest economy which hopes to match China’s double digit rates.

Indian newspapers and talkshows are now debating what the row says about India’s place in the world and whether the Games were worth hosting in the first place as the event could prove a national embarrassment.

“What it’s brought out is the sheer inefficiency of the Indian state,” said political analyst Swapan Dasgupta.

BRAZENING IT OUT?

In the latest blow to the world’s third-largest sporting event, three organising officials were suspended on Thursday in connection with financial irregularities in the launch of the ceremonial baton Games relay in London last year.

It followed the government’s anti-corruption watchdog identifying 16 projects with suspect financing.

Organisers insist the Games will be ready to receive the two million tourists and 10,000 athletes and officials expected.

But much of the capital resembles a building site. Piles of rubble and digging machines have squeezed even tighter the usual snarl of cars, rickshaws and bikes, upsetting residents.

Since its inauguration in July, monsoon rains seeped through the roof and walls of the Games’ swimming pool complex, while a loose grill tripped and injured a swimmer at a recent test event.

“It’s not an ideal situation but manageable. We are working overtime,” said Randhir Singh, the Organising Committee vice chairman.

Congress has said India will pull through in the style of a raucous wedding where everything comes together at the end.

“There’s an attempt to brazen it out,” said political analyst Paranjoy Guha Thakurta. “There will be mad rush to complete this project just as the deadline is approaching, and then you appeal to people’s patriotic instincts.”

The Indian economy is expected to grow 8.5 percent this fiscal year. But inflation has soared to 10.55 percent in June and sparked street protests and rowdy scenes in parliament.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has already been on the defensive about the Indian Premier League (IPL). A row over financing in the world’s richest cricket tournament, a magnet for business tycoons, forced a junior minister to resign.

“In the IPL, the sleaze showed up the frailties of corporate India which tried to run the event like a private members’ club,” wrote Rajdeep Sardesai, the Editor-in-Chief of the IBN 18 Network, in the Hindustan Times on Friday.

“In the Games, it’s the soft underbelly of the State which is being exposed.”

(Additional reporting by Amlan Chakraborty; editing by Alistair Scrutton and Miral Fahmy)

(For more news on Reuters India, click http://in.reuters.com)

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