Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Nehru Trophy Boat Race: An Outsider's Perspective


It’ s been in my wish list for a long time; To have a  glimpse of the Annual Nehru Trophy Boat Race in Alappuzha, not in television, instead  live from the pavilion. Like any other Keralite, I have seen the event in television several times, taken part in ‘valamkalli song’ (traditional songs for inspiring the boat men) competition and wrote long essays in school about the boat race, its history, cultural relevance, Nehruvian connection and so on.  We have heard legends about those prime contenders for the trophy: karichal chundan, chambakulam chundan, sri ganesh etc etc, each representing a ‘kara’ (locality) in Alappuzha. But then, that sight of hundred feet long boats, competing each other with more than hundred rowers on board, thousands cheering for their favorite team and heading for a photo finish. Always wondered whether the best of LCD screens can recreate that image and ambience?


At last the world conspired for me, and my dream came true. As we set out to Alappuzha last week, little did we knew that we were about to witness one of the most poorly organised events ever attended.


We reached the venue much before the inaugural ceremony to see a huge crowd before the entrance. That was expected and we waited. As the wait got longer, my friend shouted that we had valid passes and should be let in. The police constable at the entrance smiled, as we got response from the crowd. All present there had VIP passes, but there was space for none. Affluent locals had already occupied the galleries, with or without passes, and the late comers could just go back. We argued that we had tickets and we had a right to entry, but with no success.


All we could see were those temporary pavilions made of wooden planks, which were already jam-packed and more pressure on them, they could even collapse. Then the preliminary rounds started, and I could only hear the crowd roaring as the boats crossed our pavilion, but a sight of those mighty boats, was just unattainable. Without doubt, I was devastated.


And then it happened, a portion of the crowd rushed towards the tourist gallery and took away the back curtain tearing it into pieces and in the process clearing the view for the less fortunate people like us waiting behind. No one objected, not even the police men in attendance. I could see those foreigners complaining and staring at us, but the view was perfect, though we had no seats. As the race progressed, we could watch police forcibly grabbing miscreants and drunkards from the gallery and even an instance of someone misbehaving with a foreign woman. We left the venue before the finals, as waiting for the event to get over didn’t seem a good idea. As we left, we could hear one of those felicitation speaker appealing to Union Minister and Lok Sabha Speaker present,  that boat race should be given due consideration and be upgraded as an Olympic event. The crowd cheered for him, everyone badly needed some humor!


The entire episode has left me pondering as to what went wrong? An event which is so unique and rated as ‘must see’ can’t be so worse. Most shocking is that there isn’t a permanent gallery for watching the boat race which celebrated its 60th year of existence this time. No excuse can justify this inefficiency; the event is certain, date permanent, venue remains the same and 60 years is a very long time for gathering some fund.


The boat race is organised by Nehru Trophy Boat Race Society (NTBRS) along with the District Administration of Alappuzha. Interestingly, organising committee is an ad hoc one. Every year, a new committee is constituted headed by the then District Collector of Alappuzha. Various sub committees are also formed, all of them headed by government officials, for example finance committee this year was headed by RDO of Alappuzha, Publicity Committee by District Information Officer of Alappuzha, Food Committte by Tahsildar of Ambalappuzha and so on. All of them might be experts in their own domain, but there is little argument that an event of this magnitude requires full time commitment and more importantly should engage professionals.


Press Releases available in Alappuzha District Administration website shows that the preparatory meetings for this year’s event started only few months back. Further, Alappuzha RDO was even transferred for irregularity in organising the event. (Source: The Hindu, Alappuzha, August 6th, 2012 ). Even more, the present District Collector of Alappuzha took full time charge only on July 30th, earlier he had extra charge of Pathantitta District, almost twice the size of Alappuzha. (Source : Press Release dated July 30th ,2012)


People’s representatives in these committees are local politicians of the ruling party nominated by government. On top this, the event website shows that a tender was called from reputed event managers for organising the event. Not sure whether the tender was awarded, but if yes, for what?


News paper reports reveal more interesting facts as to how bureaucratically the event is conducted with little local participation. It has been always the grievance of the participating teams that they have no representation in organising the event. (Source: The Hindu, Alapuzha, July29, 2012).It is even alleged that this year’s event logo was a mere modification of a popular template available in internet. It is  even shocking to know that the results of 2011 competition is not yet settled, as the team which completed  first was disqualified for a trivial violation; they were not in uniform as per the rules of the competition. The team is facing permanent disqualification and approached High Court of Kerala. The court permitted them to participate this year, but the case is still pending (Source: Business Standard, Kochi, July 26th, 2012). We need rules for any competition, but what if the rules spoil the spirit of the event? Now supposing the rule was genuine, I wonder why the team not in uniform was permitted to participate, as the rules permit the referee prevent them at the starting point. Let me also pose another hypothetical question. What if the same team had won the competition this year and subsequently disqualified as per 2011 rules. Will that mean the race will have no winners for these two years?


My intention  is not to accuse anyone but to get some answers. I have seen religious groups across the state hosting their annual festivals, in far more organised manner. The distinct feature has been that all of them have developed a permanent  organising team and the people at the helm continue for a longer period. Can’t we have an organising team for the race with more local participation and which is more permanent? Or is it the partial government funding which mandates such control for the event? But then, do we need administrators as high as District Collector to micro mange the event? Does that make the event any better? Or do we still retain a notion that only a governmental supervision can ensure efficiency and transparency?

Reference:
Official Website of Nehru Trophy Boat Race: www.nehrutrophy.nic.in
Official Website of Alappuzha District Administration: www.alappuzha.nic.in