Friday, October 15, 2010

Audit to Begin: Now Culprits may find it hard to sleep

With the successful completion of the Delhi Commonwealth Games, a collective sigh of relief might well have risen over Raisina Hill. The stuttering prelude to the games, marked by a frantic pace to meet deadlines, had kept a fretful government on edge.

More than one senior figure in the government agreed that the emotion was one of pride about India pulling off a big show tempered by the realization that the games had been a close shave. The standing applause from chefs de mission at the Games Village on Thursday morning was hard earned indeed.

While questions are being raised whether the successful conclusion of the event might dull the appetite for a full inquiry into the graft allegations and bungling that all but marred the Games, Congress chief Sonia Gandhi’s decision to sit in the spectators’ gallery rather than the VVIP box is an unmistakable statement.

Organizing Committee (OC) chairperson Suresh Kalmadi, who has been at the centre of controversies swirling around the games, seemed a man out on a limb at the closing ceremony thanking everyone in the government and even naming the secretaries to the government. In his bid to ensure he got the pecking order right, he got to Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapakse pretty late.

Not the most articulate of speakers, Kalmadi thanked Delhi mayor Kanwar Sain even though the present incumbent is Prithviraj Sahni. But that is a minor glitch, and the OC chief is likely to be called to account for a lot of dirty linen stuffed into various cupboards. The mood in government is clear: it is now time for a detailed audit.

The ambit of the inquiry is likely to probe irregularities in the tendering for games contracts, the failure of the Delhi government and some Central agencies in delivering results as well as initial findings that construction was substandard.

Both Congress leaders and government sources appeared clear that the corruption and sloth that almost led the Games not happening cannot be allowed to be brushed aside. The corruption charges have been deeply embossed in the public mind and lack of action was going to reflect poorly on the Manmohan government.

In fact, the late surge to ensure that national honor was not compromised was set in motion at a Congress core group meeting on August 13, where Sonia made it clear that the Games have to be rescued and those guilty of mismanagement need to be brought to book. The following day, PM Manmohan Singh held a marathon meeting that set up an empowered committee to monitor the Games.

What has amazed senior officials is that even after the PM’s intervention the attitude of OC bosses did not change much.