View a slide show of New Delhi's Commonwealth Games crisis.
What was meant to be India's coming out party is quickly turning into a walk of shame. Only 10 days remain before the curtains go up on New Delhi's Commonwealth Games, the 19th edition of a quadrennial gathering that brings together the 70-odd nations of the former British Empire, and India's capital is a city in disarray.
By Praveen Swami
In the past week, Islamist terrorists claimed credit for injuring two Taiwanese tourists in a drive-by shooting; a pedestrian bridge near the event's flagship stadium collapsed, injuring 23 workers; a Scottish official declared the athlete's village "unfit for human habitation"; and Britain, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand issued travel advisories warning their citizens of more terrorist attacks during the games.
Ratcheting up the pressure on India, officials from England and New Zealand have raised doubts about whether the games will go ahead as scheduled. On Wednesday, Sir Andrew Foster, the chairman of England's Commonwealth team, told the BBC that the future of the event remained "on a knife edge." And what was a trickle of top athletes pulling out threatens to turn into a flood. Among those who won't be in Delhi come October: Jamaican sprinters Usain Bolt and Shelly-Ann Fraser, Australian tennis stars Lleyton Hewitt and Samantha Stosur, Scottish cyclist Chris Hoy, and English triple-jumper Phillips Idowu.
Cancellation still appears unlikely. Depending on whom you ask, and on whether you include a broader aesthetic and infrastructure facelift for Delhi timed to coincide with the games, India has sunk between $3 billion and $10 billion on the event. With national prestige riding on a successful outcome, it would take a catastrophe -- say a major terrorist attack or flooding on the streets of Delhi -- for the government to throw in the towel. And decisions by individual competitors notwithstanding, few countries would risk a diplomatic row with India by pulling out over the state of athletes' apartments and amorphous fears of terrorism.
Nonetheless, the controversy over the games highlights the gulf between India's lofty ambitions and its often messy reality. Over the last 20 years, liberalization and globalization have unshackled many of the country's most productive citizens from heavy-handed socialism and raised living standards faster than at any time in the nation's history. But even as the private sector booms -- swelling the middle class and producing billionaires by the fistful -- the quality of governance remains abysmal. Neither the courts nor the electorate punish public servants for amassing private fortunes. In parts of the country, the political and criminal classes are hard to tell apart.