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Chinese Torture

Chinese Torture

Author: Editorial
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: April 18, 2008

Security overkill as Olympian fiasco

With 17,000 policemen and commandos deployed on guard duty, doors and windows of buildings that house the Government of India barred, the rooftops of majestic monuments in Lutyens' Delhi sanitised and Parliamentarians advised to go home early -- leading to a quorum being unavailable in the Rajya Sabha -- the Olympic torch relay was both a nightmare and a cruel joke. Bending over backwards to keep its Chinese interlocutors happy, the UPA Government harassed its own citizens, drove civic life in the capital completely crazy, placed unreasonable restrictions on common people being able to be part of the Olympic relay process and put up a show that would have done a totalitarian state proud. The torch has been carried through Paris and San Francisco; there have been protests, but heavens have not fallen. The cities have not been barricaded and reduced to curfew situations only to let a torch, surrounded by a Chinese security posse, race through empty, soulless streets. If this was the only way in which the Indian Government could have handled the Olympic torch relay, it would have been better served asking the Chinese authorities and the International Olympic Committee to bypass Delhi altogether and take the torch straight from Islamabad to Bangkok. At the end of an eminently forgettable day, returning home after negotiating two-hour traffic jams, Delhi's residents must be feeling small and silly. These are the sentiments the security overkill, the recreant Ministry of External Affairs and the unctuous and self-serving Mr Suresh Kalmadi have left most Indians with after the shame of Thursday, April 17.

India's obtrusive and omnipresent security fetish is a national nuisance. After the Olympic torch fiasco, it has become a national embarrassment. In no other country -- at least no free and democratic society -- does a 2.3 km torch run lead to six-hour shutdowns, 12 hours of urban chaos and the virtual cordoning of the heart of the national capital. The next time Delhi has to host any such event, it would be better served -- and this suggestion comes only half-facetiously -- for the torch to be flown straight from Indira Gandhi International Airport to the Air Force's Hindon base (preferably by a military helicopter, escorted by fighter-bombers), and driven from there to the Noida Expressway. Part of the Expressway could be closed to traffic and athletes and movie stars, accompanied by Mr Kalmadi and inscrutable, innumerable Chinese musclemen, could run up and down to their heart's content.

Beijing will probably send the Ministry of External Affairs in New Delhi a thank you note for ensuring safe passage for the torch. If so, this would amount to a gross error, and indicate the continuing inability of the Chinese leadership, with all its attributes and unquestioned achievements, to read the pulse of civil society. In India as elsewhere, the torch relay has been a public relations disaster. It has taken the sheen away from the economic miracle that China is and would have wanted to project itself as in the build-up to the Games. In typical Middle Kingdom style, the Chinese Government can play the ostrich and decide it is all a monumental, worldwide conspiracy. Alternatively, it can look inwards to see what went wrong, and why, when it came to the crunch, it found itself so short of goodwill.

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