Coffee House

Delhi’s disaster indicts the Indian state

25 September 2010

Spectacle counts in the emerging East. China confirmed its coming dominance with the
spectacular Beijing Olympics. On the evidence of the Commonwealth Games village, India has the squalid air of an impoverished country ineptly governed. William Dalrymple, author on all things
Indian, wrote a measured commentary for the Times (£) yesterday:

"The Commonwealth Games was meant to be India’s coming-out party, a demonstration to the world that the old days of colonial domination and subsequent relegation to Third World
status were finally over. Sadly, the Games have shown that the Old India is very much with us. This is a country, after all, where — alongside all the triumphs of technology and 8.5 per
cent growth — eight Indian states still account for more poor people than the twenty-six poorest African countries combined.

The triumphs of the Indian economic miracle have been private sector successes, usually in the service sector. For this reason, for example, government-owned hotels are still spectacularly
grotty; but the privately run Taj and Oberoi groups, in contrast, run some of the world’s most sleekly wonderful hotels, successes that have been achieved despite rather than because of
the State."

Indians are conscious of their humiliation and government has been cast as the villains of this piece. The Hindustan Times is one of many newspapers to have worked itself into justified fury over central malfeasance and political malfunction.
It’s the free press at its best (India’s strength and China’s ultimate weakness), turning a harsh strip-light on corruption and incompetence. Joint Parliamentary committees have
been convened to audit the use of public money; the opposition and rebel
backbenchers have criticised Prime
Minister’s Singh’s refusal to bring these matters before parliament; and Sonia Gandhi has promised punishment for the perpetrators. In the long-run,
dysentery and dengue fever may make India’s institutions worthy of the country’s incalculable potential.

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Show comments
  • David Blackburn

    Ganpat Ram,

    If you’d care to read the article, it states quite clearly that the economic miracle to which you refer is happening in spite of India’s corrupt and incompetent political institutions, not because of them. However, reform would seem to be on the way as a result of the CWG debacle.

  • Ganpat Ram

    So India is a pig with lipstick? Isn’t it all the more crushing for the once “great” Britain that this “pig” is now the second largest investor in the UK economy and is snapping up premier UK companies and making them profitable? How utterly shaming!

    If India can do this at this stage of the game, where will the UK be in 10 years? Wholly Indian owned. A minor jewel in the crown of India.

    As the Romans said about Greece (if you guys are up to classical history): “The conquered country conquered the conquerors.”

  • maddy1

    Who voted for the Commonwealth? The hand over fist corruption over these games make our lot of thieving charlatans look like quireboys! If the working class knew that we give billions in aid to a country where the rich have gold and silver sprinkled over their food we would have hell to pay. Retch, excrete and Pay!

  • Simon Mennie

    “The squalid air of an impoverished country ineptly run”

    Rather sums up the UK’s predicament after 13 years of unprecedented progress and plenty under Nulab and with 2012 just around the corner let’s hope this kind of talk doesn’t return to haunt us.

  • Major Plonquer 1

    Ahem. Sorry, chaps. But most of the Olympic buildings here in Beijing were built by foreign companies such as the UK’s ARUP.

  • JohnAnt

    It’s not a disaster, it’s just another state-run project that goes wrong. If it had been given to the private sector, they’d have done the same outstandingly impressive job as is usual in India. But a state sector ‘overseeing’ a project and handing out private sub-contracts never works. State office-wallahs don’t know how to write watertight contracts and would resist doing so even if they did know. Same goes for Whitehall.

  • Jez

    If it’s so bloody ace out there, then what’s the point of outsourcing?

    What part of Globalisation do you Flyers not understand?

  • Dimoto

    Few states are good at very large projects, probably only the US, Russia and China.

    China has been thinking on a continental scale for thousands of years. India was cobbled together by the British quite recently.

    Chinese state hotels are nearly as bad.

    And China has a huge, dynamic and entrepreneurial private sector despite the best efforts of the state to suppress it.
    It keeps a low profile and it doesn’t fit the stereotype, so the western media don’t tend to discuss it.

    If the Chinese government ever develops the confidence to let the private sector rip, stand by to be astonished.
    You ain’t seen nuttin’ yet !

  • Colin

    Anyone who’s been involved in doing business in India for the past twenty years or so will tell you that India just can’t do infrastructure.That is the reason India will be eclipsed by the likes of China, Brazil and a host of other emerging nations. Until it learns how, it will never reach its potential.

    Don’t forget, in reality, they’re still playing a massive game of catch up.

    The catastrophic decisions, taken by the socialist crooks who ruled india in the thirty or so years after independence have resulted in entrenched, titanic incompetence and world class corruption.

    Why is anyone surprised by this ?

  • Tankus

    No chance of them in the running for the Olympics then !

  • Verity

    Despite the excellence of their military, and despite their cricket India does not do team work well.. They’re too individualistic and unwilling to subsume their own opinions for the good of the end.

    They just don’t seem to like working together. Have you ever seen them boarding a plane or a train? Even though it’s assigned seating and they have their ticket with their seat number on it?

  • Will J

    Isn’t authoritarian communism so much better than democratic capitalism… Or was there another lesson you were hoping we’d draw from this?

  • JohnPage

    The most telling picture was the Telegraph front page seeming to show child labour (I found the CNN coverage less convincing). Can our pampered athletes really sleep easy if child labour has been used?

  • Chris

    “For this reason, for example, government-owned hotels are still spectacularly grotty; but the privately run Taj and Oberoi groups, in contrast, run some of the world’s most sleekly wonderful hotels, successes that have been achieved despite rather than because of the State.”

    PLEASE don’t tell me he is trying to use India as an anti-state example, when he has admitted earlier that inequality and poverty are off the scale….

    Or am I reading too much into this?

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