Mani Shankar Aiyar
It was only a matter of time before Mani Shankar Aiyar was called “anti-national.” As it turned out it was not a matter of long time. He was called that almost instantly by Suresh Kalmadi.
For those who do not know such things and care even less to find out, Aiyar is one of India’s most engaging politicians gifted with great wit and erudition. And Kalmadi is the chairman of the Commonwealth Games organizing committee. The games are being hosted by New Delhi in about two months at the cost of Rs. 300 billion (about $6 billion).
Aiyar has ferociously opposed the games on many different grounds from the time they were announced and Kalmadi has championed them with equal force. Of course, in front of Aiyar’s natural gift of the gab Kalmadi sounds nearly semi-literate. But that is not germane to the debate.
The latest jousting between the two has to do with Aiyar saying this yesterday: "Personally, I will be unhappy if the Commonwealth Games are successful…I am very happy with the rains, firstly because it will ensure a good agriculture for the country and secondly because it will ensure that the Commonwealth Games are spoilt. If the Games are successful, they will further organize Asian Games and other events... I will be happy if the Games are spoilt.”
Kalmadi, stung by Aiyar’s latest criticism, called him “anti-national”, saying had Aiyar remained the country’s sports minister no new stadium would have been built.
Mani Shankar Aiyar is precisely the kind of contrarian India needs. Personally, I agree with almost everything that Mani stands for and where I don’t, I always find him captivating. It is hard to fault his contention that Rs. 300 billion would have been better spent on creating nationwide sports infrastructure and turning India into a great sporting nation in the next five years. Hosting the Commonwealth Games is at best profligacy born of misplaced hubris in a country which is not by instinct a sporting nation.
I can see why many would be offended by Mani’s comments. It is easy to read him selectively and dismiss him as anti-India. Not that he needs me to interpret his comments but anyone born with a reasonably functioning brain would know better than calling him “anti-national.” There is nothing inherently wrong or treasonous about the logic that if the games succeed, it would only fuel the unfounded hubris of those who organized them and reinforce their resolve to spend even more on such future spectacles without really addressing the more fundamental problems.
Even if one factors in the galvanizing effects of a successful sporting spectacle on any country, I am not sure if those are worth Rs. 300 billion. That kind of money could have been spent on addressing some of the root causes of the rebellion of the disenfranchised that the Maoists are so egregiously exploiting. Even the most optimistic Indian would find it hard to believe that not a penny was consumed by corruption which is so intrinsic to enterprises of such scale in India.
Now that India has spent that kind of treasure on an event in which it is almost destined to be a mediocre performer, we have no choice but to hope for the best. But hoping that the games fail still does not make Mani Shankar Aiyar anti-national. It makes him clinically rational.