Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh wasn't in New York yesterday to accept an the year's World Statesman Award from the interfaith group Appeal of Conscience Foundation. He has some statesmanlike work to do at home.
With just 10 days to go until the start of the 2010 Commonwealth Games, held in New Delhi, the Indian leader is – some say belatedly – battling international outrage over conditions at the athletes' village, building standards, and ongoing concerns about weather and health issues.
He has convened emergency meetings with organizers and with the Indian sports and urban development ministers, who were given a 48-hour deadline yesterday to clean up the mess.
India is already under immense pressure to salvage the Games – and things will undoubtedly escalate as the deadline approaches, now one day away.
To add to the pressure, the majority of Indian people are outraged over the situation. A survey by the popular Times of India newspaper found a staggering 97 percent of respondents say the furor has tarnished India's reputation. Media commentators say if the games are a failure, it would damage India's national pride and spirit, not to mention outside perception of the country as a rising power.
It "would not just be a failure of an incompetent India," said one commentator.
"We as a nation are not incompetent. It would be the failure of an emerging India and the damaging of its image as a democratic nation worthy of emulation, due to the alleged incompetence of a small group of people who had the control of the organising committee."
Speculation is swirling over whether more athletes, or even entire teams, might pull out. The Scottish, Canadian, and New Zealand teams have delayed their departures to India to allow more time for the cleanup. Even England has indicated it is considering its options.
India games officials are sticking to their refrain that there's "nothing to worry about" and that most of the cleanup work has been done.
Still, embarrassing photographs are now making the rounds, showing what appear to be muddy dog footprints on a mattress, paan (chewed betel nut) stains in the bathroom and general grime in rooms at the athletes’ village.
Despite the much-publicized photographs, there are signs of progress: Delhi streets are looking unusually spiffy. Roads have been cleared of the debris that's littered them for the past year, and plants and shrubs have been laid in nature strips. Security around the athletes' village is so tight that cars without official stickers are turned away far from the entry gates.
The man who's attracting the most heat, Delhi Commonwealth Games Chief Suresh Kalmadi, has apparently gone AWOL: He's not been seen in public for days. There are reports he has been ordered by the government to keep a low profile.