The Secret Olympic Diaries

What would Sainath, Arundhati Roy, R Guha and other stalwarts think of the Olympics. A sneak peek!

The Secret Olympic Diaries
  • whatsapp
  • copy

P Sainath

In the last week of July 2012, four hundred farmers killed themselves in just three small villages of Vidarbha. No journalists recorded their story. No government minister visited their homes. No message of condolence came from the Prime Minister or the Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission. For, that same week the Olympics had begun with 7000 Indian journalists in attendance. The Prime Minister sent his well-wishes, as did Montek. They were fed the finest foods at government expense, while those who grew that food suffered and died; their very existence denied by the multinationals who drove them into debt. The airfare for the contingent could have wiped out farmer debt in three districts of Maharashtra…

Shekhar Gupta

On my way back from the Seoul Olympics in 1988, dreaming of the day that Delhi would one day host the Commonwealth Games, I ran into Sebastian Coe, now organising the London Olympics, when he had a hurried breakfast with Rajiv Gandhi and I in the first-class lounge at Changi airport. Later, when we became friends after our regular lunches together every Davos, we would laugh about our first meeting. I was a young patrakaar then, and arrogant as our fraternity is, especially if you are from Haryana, where Coe’s maternal grandmother was also born. So I took my heart in my hands, as I had at the Battle of Jaffna. Coeji, Iasked him, why can India win no golds? “Shekhar”, he said – he always called me “Shekhar” – “It is because your jholawallas have not let you reform and open your retail sector to foreign investment…”

Editorial in The Hindu

Already at the top of the gold-medal tally, the People’s Republic of China has once again demonstrated the folly of a de-stabilising alliance with the United States of America, on the assumption that the US’ dominance of the world order will continue forever. Although the structure of the Olympics is hopelessly biased towards the West, with few of the People’s Republic’s indigenous sports represented – such as the traditional folk game of Stone-the-Corrupt-CounterRevolutionary-Running-Dog – the wisdom of international multi-polarity has been on display in London. India, too, disadvantaged by the absence of native Tamil-Brahmin sports like chess, would do well to learn from China instead of following the discredited Anglo-American approach…

Tavleen Singh

Is it any wonder that we cannot hold our head up at the Olympics? It is because of the emasculation of India by the Nehru-Gandhi family. Nehru despised competition, meaning that he stifled India’s entrepreneurs and its athletes. Today, Sonia Gandhi has shown herself completely out of touch with new India, which is no longer satisfied with a bronze or two. Her cultural alienation is at fault. Someone from the Italian countryside who wears her mother-in-law’s sarees so unadorned cannot understand India’s civilisational yearning for gold…

Arundhati Roy

Gold. What a word it is – round, weighty, Western. Gold is what India’s obscenely rich, in their comfortable Jor Bagh enclaves and their forest houses in Pachmarhi, strive for. Their veins run not with the red of the working man, but the Gold of the indolent, slim-wristed rentier. In the holiest place of post-liberalisation India, the stratified hell that is Gurgaon – where multi-storeyed buildings crush beneath their layers the hovels of those that clean twelfth-floor bathrooms and wash seventeenth-floor windows with water stolen from indigenous tribes – there stands a mall devoted only to Gold.

Can there be anything uglier?

Hard as it is to imagine the reaction of those living in pristine purity in India’s trackless forests to the concrete consumerist fantasy of a Delhi mall, how can one such as I look into their deep, wise eyes and try and explain that their ancestral lands are torn apart to bring up little lumps of Gold to be sold there, and to be made into watches that, sitting on the plump pimpled arms of India’s oligarchs tick-tock away the few instants of time remaining to a better, purer, more natural way of life?

Our Republic of tatters, our pretend-democracy, needs pillars of Gold to sustain its rotten edifice. And that is what its futile Olympic quest is all about…

Ramachandra Guha

Jawaharlal Nehru, in his 30-page letter to the Minister of Sports of the newly-formed state of Andhra Pradesh in 1956, said that one day he hoped the Olympics would come to an Indian city, “and the Olympiad would bring with it the breath of Greek civility and French science that have given life to this United Nations of Sport in which assembly the deathless and eternal Indian nation will one day, inevitably, find its voice”. Nehru’s bright vision was undermined by the failure of the Indian state to broaden the appeal of sport, which I will explore in my forthcoming seven-volume work “A Corner of a Domestic Field”. This is in spite of the centrality of sport to pre-Independence political activity, a fact glossed over by the indolent Bengalis who have produced our official histories. It is a little-known fact that the last London Olympics, but a year after Independence, featured members of the Congress Azaadi Ki Daur Dal, which had been trained in long-distance marching by Gandhi himself…

Manu Joseph

Indians are a stunted, dwarfish race, mentally unable to complete simple tasks without being distracted by short-term gratification. That we persist in attempting to match physiques with the rest of the world reveals a little-understood truth about India, which I alone can elucidate: its inferiority complex. Its greatest sporting heroes are Viswanathan Anand, who sits down all day, and Sachin Tendulkar, who is 40-ish, squat, and paunchy. Its greatest Olympic moment was when a Sikh runner came fourth. That it nevertheless builds up these moments and people as “achieving” something, tells you all you need to know in order to form an opinion…

Aakar Patel

One little-noticed factor is central to India’s performance in the Olympics: caste. Because of the upper-caste bias of India’s selection committees, castes traditionally associated with physical endurance and strength are consistently overlooked. Imagine if we looked intensively within our bisti castes, accustomed to carrying waterskins across long distances for kindly British officers, for marathon gold-medalists. Or among our sturdy Northern peasant castes, with upper-body strength built up over generations of hauling ploughs and chastising oxen, for field events like the discus. Instead, we turn to the more sedentary castes that make up our officer-and bureaucratic-cadre. No surprise, we win sports that require you to move very little, such as shooting…

Swapan Dasgupta

That the Games are being held in London, surely the greatest city in this or any other universe, is an appropriate time to reflect on how much Britain has given the world in terms of sporting rules and, indeed, the sporting temperament – and how India is the natural heir to this Anglo-spherical tendency. Why, then, has India not taken up this obvious heritage? An answer can be discerned, surely, in the sagacious statements of Stanley Baldwin, speaking in a Commons debate on the Armenian Question in 1933. Warning against the reckless mediocrity that the Labour Party threatened to introduce into the life and conduct of the Empire, he predicted that Great Britain, the first sporting nation, would lose its dominance of what he called “the playing fields of Elysium” if Socialism were to have its way. India, sadly, was born into the crucible of Fabianism, which has crippled its growth as a sporting power…

Gurcharan Das

India’s Olympic failures are because its public sector does not permit excellence. Its only successes come from those such as Abhinav Bindra, the shooter who paid for his own shooting range. As long as India’s brilliant, entrepreneurial people are forced to depend on their government to win their medals for them, they will be disappointed. As it says in that earlier Libertarian text, which anticipates Ayn Rand, the Mahabharata

Bibek Debroy

Under the NDA, the growth rate in Olympic medals was 453.2%, reckoned on a quadrennial basis. Under UPA-I, this slowed to 214.2%, and the policy paralysis of the second Manmohan Singh government has taken it down to crisis levels of 114.3%. This is partly because of populist schemes to redistribute sports facilities, and partly because of new vigour given to archaic legislations like the Sports and Allied Activities Promotion Act (1874), the Gymnasiums and Akharas Control Board Act (1971) and the National Running, Jumping, and Standing in Place Guarantee Scheme (1977)…

Pratap Bhanu Mehta

There are 12 essential paradoxes to the Olympics. First, it speaks in a forked tongue: claiming a Kantian spirit of universality when it exalts in fact the particular and the parochial, the Nietzschian Übermensch. Second, it is a playground sanctified to the politics of the individual. In its motto, the current of liberalism, the freedom to be higher, stronger, faster, is reinforced. But it has been made, by the malign intervention of successive forms of identity politics, into a location of ever increasing division. Third, it is both the ultimate stronghold of the worship of the West and the site of its greatest challenges…

Editorial in The Organiser

The UPA government, determined to crush the Hindu spirit of the nation and open it up to foreign domination, has sabotaged another Olympics campaign. Why has India, the home of the bow, with a tradition of archery dating back to Dronacharya, won no medals in that sport? Because, it has behaved instead like Eklavya in cutting off its thumb as guru dakshina to the Western gods of the UPA. Because of its Macaulay-isation, it has not promoted traditional Indian sports at the international level, like gilli-danda or mosque-demolition…

Shashi Tharoor

In the midst of the ineffable spectacle of the Olympics, with nations of every hue and disposition gathered to worship at the altar of sport and international harmony, it would be reductive folly to see India’s performance as reflected solely in its position in the medals tally. India’s very presence bestows on the Games their character and inclusiveness; without the benediction of one-sixth of humanity, would the Games have any claim to international stature? Our national ethos is not one of competition, but of participation, and the critics of India’s Olympics performance do its splendid athletes, many of them young and attractive, a signal disservice I am willing to remedy…

Vir Sanghvi

Of all the Olympic cafeterias at which I have eaten, the best was at Barcelona in 1992. I, together with Sam Pitroda and MJ Akbar, remember eating there the best seafood paella I had tasted till I finally visited Ferran Adria’s famous restaurant on the Catalonian cliffs. Beijing, in 2008, overawed with its 72 giant cafeterias each serving a different national cuisine, and its heavy breakfast of Peking Duck – renamed Revolutionary Duck of the Glorious Peaceful Rise – but it failed to throw into the shade Atlanta 1996, where competitive eating practically became a gold-medal sport, won naturally by the Americans. In London, it has become clear to me that the best curries and kebabs are now not available in Old Delhi, but in the East End…

Chetan Bhagat

Young India wants golds. I get countless letters from MBAs, engineering students and marriageable girls asking me why, if little countries like Surinam can win golds, that Rahul Gandhi does not care that India does not win any? And is there anything we can do about it? One of the problems is that we educated people are not going into sports like we should, leaving it to illiterates and tribals. Nothing prepares you for the tough competition of the Olympics like success in the IIT exam…

Comment Policy: We encourage discussion and debate in our comments, among viewers and writers. However comments that are abusive or personal in nature, will be deleted.


We take comments from subscribers only!  Subscribe now to post comments! 
Already a subscriber?  Login

You may also like