The Commonwealth Games were supposed to show that India had arrived. Ten days before the competition is to begin, they have done much to reveal how far India has to go. Indeed, India's is a tale of two countries. One India is innovative, its people entrepreneurial, its economic growth astounding. The former jewel of the British Empire has quickly become a gem of the global marketplace. India's growing middle class has transformed a nation and the contours of the world economy.
When India bid for the 2010 Commonwealth Games seven years ago, this was what it wanted to show the world. Instead, as competitors from 71 members of the British Commonwealth arrive in India, an entirely different country is on display. Here, corruption is rife, bureaucracy is stifling, and both help to prevent the millions upon millions of Indians living in poverty from escaping its grip. When organisers should be putting the final touches on stadiums and accommodations, the Games appear to be falling apart. A footbridge collapsed near a stadium in Delhi on Tuesday, injuring 27 workers. Yesterday a portion of the weight lifting venue's ceiling fell in. "It is not a major kind of collapse," said KM Chandrasekhar, the event's organiser. We hope that the same can be said about the Games themselves although there are a growing number of reasons to believe otherwise.
Of the 2.3 million tickets on offer, only 50,000 have been sold. Many athletes from the three nations that have dominated this competition in the past - Australia, Canada and England - have expressed reservations about competing. The village that is to house the 7,000 competitors, and cost $230 million (Dh844 million) to build, does not yet have working showers or air conditioning. India has an ability to throw projects together at the last minute; some events may well be held without problems. Yet, for a host country, international competitions are far less about sport than prestige. India's has already been damaged.
This embarrassment can serve a purpose. Indians have long tolerated a certain amount of graft from officials and their under-performance. Many of those covering and competing in the Commonwealth Games have not been so forgiving. Only by holding itself and its leaders to a higher standard can India address the chronic corruption that limits its potential. As many high-profile athletes have decided not to compete, lesser known competitors will have a rare opportunity in the spotlight. The Games have already put India's poor and its problems in the spotlight. That too provides an opportunity.