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Coffee House

Delhi’s disaster indicts the Indian state

25 September 2010

2:20 PM

25 September 2010

2:20 PM

Spectacle counts in the emerging East. China confirmed its coming dominance with the
spectacular Beijing Olympics. On the evidence of the Commonwealth Games village, India has the squalid air of an impoverished country ineptly governed. William Dalrymple, author on all things
Indian, wrote a measured commentary for the Times (£) yesterday:

"The Commonwealth Games was meant to be India’s coming-out party, a demonstration to the world that the old days of colonial domination and subsequent relegation to Third World
status were finally over. Sadly, the Games have shown that the Old India is very much with us. This is a country, after all, where — alongside all the triumphs of technology and 8.5 per
cent growth — eight Indian states still account for more poor people than the twenty-six poorest African countries combined.

The triumphs of the Indian economic miracle have been private sector successes, usually in the service sector. For this reason, for example, government-owned hotels are still spectacularly
grotty; but the privately run Taj and Oberoi groups, in contrast, run some of the world’s most sleekly wonderful hotels, successes that have been achieved despite rather than because of
the State."

Indians are conscious of their humiliation and government has been cast as the villains of this piece. The Hindustan Times is one of many newspapers to have worked itself into justified fury over central malfeasance and political malfunction.
It’s the free press at its best (India’s strength and China’s ultimate weakness), turning a harsh strip-light on corruption and incompetence. Joint Parliamentary committees have
been convened to audit the use of public money; the opposition and rebel
backbenchers have criticised Prime
Minister’s Singh’s refusal to bring these matters before parliament; and Sonia Gandhi has promised punishment for the perpetrators. In the long-run,
dysentery and dengue fever may make India’s institutions worthy of the country’s incalculable potential.

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