Forty five Indian athletes went to London Olympics and returned with six medals, none of them gold. In the Beijing Olympics four years ago, we had got at least one gold. Athletes from other countries have gone home with dozens of medals – many of them gold – and even Jamaica, a tiny little island in the Pacific with a population no more than Pune’s, has a couple of golds, including one for the fastest man in the world.
India’s performance has been pathetic, to say the least. I was in London in 1948, that is, sixty four years ago, and happened to be in the Indian High Commission at the time of the Olympics, the first to be held after the war. The High Commissioner himself, V.K. Krishna Menon, was ill and I had to do the honours in his absence.
Our hockey team was a gold medal – actually many gold medals, one for each player – and I had to represent India at the ceremony. The medals were without ribbons – Britain had emerged from the war so poor a country that it could not apparently afford even ribbons – and the medals were handed over in envelopes. Later in the evening, we had a grand reception at the Commission at which we served samosas, then a novelty in London, to our proud guests, most of whom were Indians.
Since then, India has come, or is supposed to have come a long way, and, I am sure, the High Commission must be serving something more substantial than samosas to the guests. But since there will be no golds, it will be a dull party.
We are supposed to be a superpower, though admittedly not as big power as America, or even Russia. But look at the medal count. America heads the list with 104 medals, closely followed by China, with 88. By the time the games are over, China may have crossed, or touched, a grand tally of 100 medals, and perhaps the same number by, America. Even Britain, a country with a population of just about 7 crore, has bagged 65 medals, including 29 golds and 17 silvers. Britain is supposed to be down and out, and is only a pale shadow of its former self, but it has not given up, and is fighting with its back to the wall. Only India, with a population of 120 crore. seems to be content with a couple of bronzes and no gold.
By Olympic standards, India is a big failure though we don’t realise it. This failure at the Olympic games reflects failures on every facet of our national life. We have not produced a single great world-class scientist in the last ten or twenty years, and though we have thousands of politicians, not a great statesman either. We make hundreds of films every year and win some prizes here and there, but we have not produced a Satyajit Ray in the last fifty years. If there is one word that describes India at this stage of its history, that word is mediocrity.
We are certainly not a mediocre lot. See how well we do outside India. Indians seem to be everywhere, from London to Washington, from Sydney to Toronto. There are Indian-origin governors in America and Indian-born business tycoons in England. Indians have taken over whole cities in the West. Leicester, only a few miles north of London, is an Indian city in every sense of the word, so is Vancouver in Canada. The next Vice-President of America may well be an Indian, and the next mayor of Birmingham in Britain. Have we ever wondered why Indians do so well outside India and so poorly at home?
In India, we are reluctant to take responsibility for anything we do or are supposed to do. We have become such experts in passing the buck that we have made it almost into a philosophy. Have you ever come across a politician who says that “I did it”. Nobody does anything in India, because whatever you do always goes wrong and even before people start pointing fingers at you, you shout from the rooftops that you did not do it or were not responsible for it. it is always somebody else’s fault, not yours, and you have a thousand excuses for your failure.
When we got a beating on the Indo-Chinese border in 1961, mainly due to acts of commission and omission by Jawaharlal Nehru, the whole country expected Nehru to stand up in the Parliament and accept responsibility for the ignominious defeat. But he did nothing of the kind. The surprising thing is even his party did not hold his government responsible for the disaster and pointedly refrained from asking him to resign. Nobody stood up and said “go” and instead directed their ire at Krishna Menon, the then Defence Minister, whose ordinance factories were busy making kitchen equipment, instead of guns, Nehru was forced to sack Menon, otherwise his own followers would have turned against him. It was a shameful thing to do, for in a disaster of this kind, or any kind, it is always the top man who takes the blame and bows out, before he is kicked out.
Since then, nobody has taken any responsibility for anything in the government, and that has set the pattern for everyone else. To this day, nobody has taken responsibility for the various scams in the government, including the massive 2G Scam, nor has any committee been appointed to look into the scandal and, if necessary, apportion blame. Ditto for the Commonwealth Games. Thousands of crores have vanished without trace but most of the men responsible for the loot are roaming freely in the corridors of power, and some of them even attending the London Olympics. Where has the cash disappeared? Not us, say the politicians and the bureaucrats as they stuff the dough into their accounts in foreign banks.
Things are handled differently in foreign countries, at least the countries we know of. People are not only sacked for the slightest misdemeanour, they are promptly sent to jail. A man called Madoff cheated thousands, may be hundreds of thousands of investors in his financial schemes, and was promptly arrested, tried and sent to jail for a hundred years, though he is already 80 years old and will never come out alive. A US senator who was involved in a minor scam worth a few thousand dollars received a sentence of three years in jail and banished for ever from holding public office.
India is suffering from a crisis of leadership. Real leaders don’t hide behind excuses. They come forward and take the blame, and, of course, face the consequences. Had Nehru stood up like a man and accepted responsibility for the defeat on the China border, India’s history would have been different – and India would have been a different type of country.