Sunday, October 24, 2010

A tale of two Games: Beijing Olympics and Delhi Commonwealth Games were two very different beasts

Despite the surface commonalities, the Olympics and the CWG are not in the same league, just as, despite being hyphenated, India and China are not on par, writes Pallavi Aiyar, in the Business Standard, titled "A tale of two games". Here are a few excerpts.

In China, the years leading up to 2008 saw Olympianism emerge as the country’s new religion; any questioning of the Games, the equivalent of blasphemy. With traditional beliefs like Confucianism having been battered by decades of communist struggle and in turn socialism’s egalitarian ideals punctured by the increasingly single-minded pursuit of mammon, the authorities in Beijing used the Olympics as a legitimising ideology which helped justify unpopular decisions.

But nowhere was the discussion, so prominent in India, of the desirability of the Games in a country with millions of citizens still mired in poverty, in evidence. Beijing as a city was architecturally re-wrought, with hundreds of thousands of citizens relocated and displaced. Some committed suicide. None had proper legal recourse. Yet, these alternative narratives were absent from the discourse surrounding the Games. Those who spoke out against were censored, fired and in the worst case scenario, imprisoned.

There was something glorious, at least to someone with China-habituated eyes, about how Suresh Kalmadi, the chairman of the CWG organising committee, was booed during the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games. In Beijing the loss of face thus suffered by a senior official would have been unbearable to the authorities. In Delhi, it was part of the freewheeling, chaotic melee of Indian democracy.

That the Nobel Prize for Peace was given to Liu Xiaobo, a Chinese dissident currently in prison for 11 years for advocating democratic reform in China, as the Commonwealth Games wound down, only served to underline the India-China divide. Dispersed and polyphonic, India is from a Chinese standpoint almost incoherent. And if the ability for a government to mobilise its citizenry on the one hand and deliver on its promises on the other are seen as necessary aspects of ‘coherence,’ the Chinese perspective is understandable.

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