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Delhi Games paralyzed by threats of Ayodhya violence

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By: Rohit Kumar

If terrorists wanted a city paralyzed and panic-stricken about security, they have already won the propaganda battle ahead of Sunday’s opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games. Tourist numbers are down, the organizing committee are having difficulty selling tickets and hoteliers are complaining of empty rooms. On top of that, the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court has passed a decision dividing the contested Ayodhya temple (Ram Janambhoomi)/Babri mosque land into three; a judgment that will raise tempers between Hindus and Muslims throughout India, and is likely to set up a juridical precedent of bias, communalism and inter-religious hatred.

The projected bonanza of 100,000 extra people flocking to Delhi to celebrate the Games has failed to materialize. Local tourist bodies say that only about 10,000 people have travelled here because of the Games. Over and above that, states like UP have been transformed into fortresses to repel any outbreak of violence due to the Ayodhya tensions, as was witnessed in Mumbai in 1992. About 3000 “troublemakers” have already been arrested in Mumbai, according to Deputy Police Commissioner (Operations) Rajkumar Vhatkar.

The Commonwealth Games athletes are virtually bunkered in the Games village and the training venues. Many countries have banned their teams from leaving the security-fenced area. The Games have their own security problems keeping everyone is on tenterhooks; fearing that the 300 tonnes of explosives that went missing from a convoy of 61 trucks last month in India could be used to target the Games.

On top of that, the Ayodhya dispute hearing was not postponed, despite fervent pleas from all sides of the spectrum. The decision has the capacity to sway public opinion both ways; but based on historical evidence, it is more likely to exacerbate the Hindu-Muslim divide than allow both communities to worship in a common area.

The sense of fear is as thick as the chemicals being sprayed on to all the nearby pools of stagnant water, which are to be used for the Commonwealth Games events, to rid the area of Dengue fever-carrying mosquitoes.

The Delhi police have, however, upped their security presence at the athletes’ village – in addition to sending all sweepers and cleaners home to further secure the Games site. The reason? Theft of bathroom fittings by the hordes of workers recruited to clean up the accommodation mess in the past week.

One example of the tension over security occurred Monday, when two England field hockey players found themselves stuck outside a security checkpoint in the sun for nearly an hour near the athletes’ village without the accreditation needed to get through an entrance dedicated for VIPs.

They casually mentioned their hotel accommodation and I wrote it down to be able to find them later on for a comment. The team manager, David Faulkner, saw the name of the hotel on a notepad and furiously demanded that the information be crossed out “for security purposes”.

He later apologized for being so aggressive, but acknowledged that the security was the biggest concern for everyone in Delhi.

Some international delegations have complained to their embassy security experts about suspicious characters lurking in and around the Games village. Yesterday, alleged leaked intelligence documents from Delhi authorities surfaced, which reportedly claimed the feared Naxalite terrorist group, from east India, and a local Mars militant group had been heard in phone intercepts organizing the supply of explosives to unleash at the Games.

Local police have not yet confirmed whether the documents, which surfaced on a Pakistani website, are genuine.

The document purports to state: “Conversations of the group indicated the Mars has fronted for someone to acquire especially from the police, the group, as per raw intelligence, the supply explosives, gelatin sticks and detonators to the Naxalites and structured pay-offs transactions for attacks on CWG, Delhi including foreign teams and officials”. The document also says the group comprises a large network and supply line.

Meanwhile the organizing committee has come under fire for hiring 38 middle and top-level staff who are related to more than a dozen of its most senior officials.

And in another leak, exposing the tensions between the organizing committee and the Commonwealth Games Federation, the CGF chief executive, Mike Hooper, was alleged to have had six staff at his Delhi accommodation and his income tax paid for by the government.

The Indian government and the Commonwealth Games organizers have also “deployed” langur monkeys for “security” purposes, like keeping snakes and insects away, and scaring away bonnet monkeys which are known to attack humans. More than 10 trained langurs were brought to the headquarters of the Commonwealth Games Organising Committee on Monday before being assigned to particular venues.

Amidst the continued embarrassment over the CWG, India was already mired in the Maoist/Naxalite insurgency, and a fresh insurrection in Kashmir that is barely three months old and shows no sign of abating. The Ayodhya judgment is likely to add fuel to this fire.