'Shame Games' mar India's reputation

The shambolic run-up to the Commonwealth Games has dashed India’s hopes of showcasing itself as a dynamic emerging superpower and delivering an event to rival the spectacular Beijing Olympics, analysts say.

The country’s old image of inefficient bureaucracy, poor infrastructure, graft and squalor has been broadcast around the world by the international sporting event, tagged India’s “Shame Games” by the local media.

“We believe tourism will not suffer much, since tourists who visit India have mostly factored in the India of yore, with snake charmers, and its dirt,” said Robinder Sachdev, president of Indian image consultancy Imagindia.

“But large-scale business and investment decisions in boardrooms will certainly be impacted by this colossal display of ineptitude,” said Sachdev.

It is “a huge public spectacle of a large project gone wrong,” he said.

The Commonwealth turmoil has been a blow to the vision the country hoped to project of a modern “shining” India that could deliver complex projects on time and within budget, analysts said.

The bad news reached a crescendo last week when a footbridge to the Games’ centrepiece stadium collapsed and the Games governing body branded the athletes’ village “filthy” and “uninhabitable”.

The collapse raised doubts about the safety of other structures built for the Games, whose original cost was pegged by the government at less than $100-million in 2003 but which later estimates have put at up to $6-billion.

The Games should have given India a chance of “showcasing its rising economy, recent infrastructure development, and improved business environment”, said Matt Robinson, a senior economist with the research arm of ratings giant Moody’s.

But now “confidence in India’s infrastructure, its capacity to organise large events and its reputation as a tourist destination have all been brought into question,” he said.

Concern about the negative impact of the Games’ chaos was echoed by a leading Indian business lobby group which said it was deeply worried about the possibility of the country’s humiliation over the sporting event.

“I must confess we are deeply concerned,” said Amit Mitra, general secretary of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry.

“It is a sad state of affairs indeed and, psychologically, puts a question mark against India’s capacity to deliver,” he said.

India, which won the Games in 2003 but only started working on them at the beginning of 2008, has “no excuse” for the last-minute rush, noted Rajeev Sharma, project manager of the Building and Woodworkers’ International trade union in India.

The biggest mystery for many is the amount of time it took for the government to step in to try to rescue the event.

While the problems had been building for months, it has only been in the last few weeks that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has been holding crisis meetings to jumpstart preparations for the Games.

Commonwealth Games Organising Committee treasurer AK Mattoo called the woes embroiling the Games a “collective failure”.

Analysts say the chaotic preparations, however, will not derail the long-term economic rise of the country of 1,2-billion people.

“Despite perceptions by foreign investors of hurdles like painful bureaucracy and corruption, the huge domestic market is hard to ignore,” said Deepak Lalwani, India head of London-based investment house Astaire and Partners,

“And that’s especially the case since developed economies are stagnating or show anaemic growth,” Lalwani said.

Even as the lead-up to the sporting event continued to generate embarrassing news, foreign investors drove India’s benchmark Sensex stock index past the psychologically key 20 000 level as they bet on robust economic growth.

Analysts say the fiascos surrounding the Games preparations should be seen more as a reflection of the incompetence of India’s stifling government bureaucracy rather than as a sign of the nation’s long-term prospects.

“The pathetic delivery by the government” does not “mean a poor showing by the private sector. Indeed, India’s economic emergence is despite the government—not because of it,” CLSA economist Rajeev Malik said. - AFP

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