Can India afford the Formula race?

While I am against the globalisation mirage of India, I think that any of us firing the gun from the shoulders of the poor and dispossessed, unless they are specifically the target of discourse, is patently unfair. I can speak only for myself and in many ways all of us who are English-speaking/educated and have access to technological modes of communication can be deemed elitist, at least at the level to access to information and its dissemination.

The subject of India’s debut in the Formula 1 circuit is bound to raise the same questions about whether we can afford it. We cannot afford nuclear weapons, we cannot afford branded goods, we cannot afford fancy cars mainly because they hog up space. Who is this 'we', though? It is not a single group.

Let us take the arguments - well-meaning though they are - raised in an email from a discussion group:

It is strange that India, a zero in international sports (track & field, football etc) is to host this most expensive of sports.

Tickets will be priced at Rs 30,000 (£400) for two days. Germany’s ace Michael Schumacher has apparently given his blessings while America’s Lady Gaga (who usually sings and gyrates near naked) has been invited to perform at the F1 event. India elites have long been hungry for the western presence and approval. There is no doubt that the track must have been planned and constructed with total foreign knowhow.

It is true that we do not have a great record in sports, but that is mainly due to the cussedness of sports politics. Our hockey team wins and they are offered a piddly sum as reward. This is supposed to be our national game. How did it come to be so? Because we were good at it, the very best. Those were not days of sponsorship. In cricket, too, we have been fairly consistent, and rather good well before the advent of IPL and one dayers and T20. We have done well in golf, in snooker, in chess, in athletics, in archery, in weightlifting, in tennis, in badminton, and we have climbed mountains. It is not about who has done better. Let us not forget that even a Usain Bolt gets disqualified.

Many of these sports require sponsorship or patronage. Remember Sania Mirza’s training was paid for by a businessman. Most equipment and clothes don't come cheap. If we send shabby-looking players, our internationalists will be the first to object about our ‘image’. Training in many of these games is in fact expensive. Yet, quite a few of our current sports stars had rather humble beginnings, if we look at any major sport. There is a pecking order, no doubt about it, but does it have to do with an elitist sport?

It is far less elitist than horse racing, and not many strive to become jockeys. Yet, every year there are a few prime derby events and it must be said it is the only sport where the gamblers get more prominence, or the owners rather than the real players. Car racing and go-karting appeal to a larger audience, and like any sport test the stamina and skill of the drivers. It is also extremely risky. India has been silently conducting racing events for years now, and the tracks outside Chennai and Bangalore do not depend on foreign knowhow. I happen to know some people and have visited the Sriperumbadur track. The glamour aspect is there primarily because cars are anyway associated with it through advertising. We should be more worried about the number of foreign cars that are entering the Indian market and roads.

If we can get thrilled about Bill Gates coming and lecturing us about philanthropy then Schumacher’s visit is great. We have had some of our own drivers play at the international level. And Lady Gaga or any pop star from any field is an added attraction. When Oprah wants to do India she does not find ordinary people but our celebrities; that ‘gay prince’ appeared twice on her show with full royal regalia making a mockery of our democracy.

As regards ticket pricing, Indians eating out cough up this much at five-star hotels; they attend western classical music concerts which cost a pretty penny; they blow up on several other products, and they are made to feel wonderful when they buy a dinner table at a charity function if Richard Gere attends. The overheads cost more than what the charity gains.

Consider the fact that 80% of Indians have to live on RS 600 a month. They would need to save four years of earnings just to watch a bunch of overrated foreign drivers going round and round the course 60 times. Clearly the event is not for the masses but probably to impress the westerners that India has come of age – it is an ‘emerging power’, no matter that it is a starkly poor and malnourished country.

I am not sure if not having these races will solve poverty. These games are indeed not for the masses, just as reading and writing in English are not.


  1. FV,
    Awesome piece again...basically "susree"mayawati has managed all this to wash all her sins in noida land sale which has earned her thousands of crores ...U remain the "blogger with balls and brains"same as u were 3 years ago....I read your update every single day ..thanks to Mr "Jugle"of Pind Girotr Distt Ambarsar ...and their ""pruduct"...android :)...Listen ...u inspire me ..dont dilute ur content because of so called ""karsanbhais"who make comment sextion sick ...u know what i mean and u know who i am ....

  2. JJ:

    I know what you mean and I know who are be because only you change your cellphone this often! This is the world I have where a complete strangers' phone choices and OS (remember you thought Chrome was great because of spellcheck?) become shared knowledge.

    No Karsan or farsanbhai can make me dilute my 'pruduct' for I am in the biness of making doodh ka doodh, paani ka paani. So no water for mixing in milk left....

    I'll keep the brains and outsource the balls for the next kirkit match...much appreciate your presence, overt or in the background.

  3. Whether here in the West or in Asia, informal sources of news/analysis like yours are gaining more credibility; precisely because of their independence.

    Still, to know and criticise is one thing and to act is altogether another. In this imperfect world, imperfect politicians and wheeler-dealers keep things moving.

    Once in a while, it would be good to read what you would do differently if you were in charge; whether it is home ministry or finance or foreign relations or media.

    Once you separate the doodh and paani, Farsanbhai can make barfi out of that doodh :)

  4. Regardless of whether India can afford the race or not, the wants and vanities of the elite have to be catered to. Even a country like Congo will have it's version of such an event for it's tiny powerful elite. There is no pinprick of a guilty conscious because to live like this is their birthright. Too bad about the rest of the huddled, nameless faceless dreamless rabble.

  5. Too bad the huddled, nameless, faceless masses keep multiplying like a Malthusian nightmare and elites on a warpath to build as many pyramids for their pharoahs as they can; on this planet with dwindling resources.

  6. Shit, had a dyslexic moment: conscious should be conSCIENCE! :/

  7. Hi Farzana,
    You can't blame India's lamentable sports image on the politics. Indians are simply not good enough. They seem to lack the ability, the physique, the stamina, the quick responses, the self-discipline.

    They may excel at the local or national level where standards are low but, internationally, India is virtually unknown. An odd Indian may have surfaced in a lesser golf tourney but soon bows out after a round or two. Sania Mirza showed promise but she too faded.

    India was good at hockey at a time when the Europeans didn't care for the game. Once they joined in, the Indians couldn't keep up. And do Indians know snooker at all? While Chinese have attained a world rank here, the Indians are still stuck on billiards which they learnt from the British in the Raj days.

    Even in cricket, their standard is uneven. They were thrashed by the recent series of tests in the UK.
    It is not surprising they have taken to cricket - a lazy, slow-paced games that matches their phlegmatic temperament well.

    Does the country have a national sports policy? Are there training schools that are on the lookout for talent? East Asia is known for its gruelling schools that target and train huge numbers of promising candidates, focus on quality and excellence.
    Poor India has no role models to speak of, no sports heroes. There is mediocrity everywhere - the governance, infrastructure, institutions, Bollywood, the lot.

    What is the root of the problem in sports or anything else? Can it be India's inability to think critically and produce original solutions?
    VS Naipaul commented on India's dependency culture way back in the 60s. More recently, Mark Tully (BBC correspondence in India for 30 years)has written on the same theme in his new book India: The Road Ahead.
    He said at a launch in London:
    "The World Bank has described India as a flailing state. It is unable to construct things quickly, efficiently and honestly.

    "The institutions and system of government is based on the British Raj - there has been no significant reform..."

  8. Looking at this, I am not sure who can afford what anymore ...


  9. It's an interesting question. I have come to realize that desire propels one into action and as long as it doesn't harm other people's interests, it actually might lead to a more evolved consciousness. It's better for the rich (who have accumulated capital) to part with it in ways they like , rather them force it upon them by taxes or inducing guilt. Circulation of capital is ultimately what will lead to reduction in poverty and not stagnant capital. This is what happened in the west and we should learn from it. A society thrives with diversity of thought, classes and basically everything.


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