DATELINE Guwahati /Wasbir Hussain
A really good chance is coming the Northeast’s way to showcase its culture, landscape and its diverse people during the upcoming South Asian Federation (SAF) games. Around 5000 athletes and officials from eight South Asian tions will take part in the event at Guwahati and Shillong between February 5 and 16. The Government of India will be spending more than Rs 200 crore on the event which will have 23 sporting disciplines spread over 17 venues in the two states—Assam and Meghalaya.
Although the SAF Games has a relatively small budget of Rs 200 crore and some local businessmen would be excited with some contracts awarded to them, it is a mega event. Therefore, it is not surprising that Prime Minister rendra Modi would be iugurating the Games at Guwahati on February 5. Stakes are high for a smooth conduct of the Games for India, particularly Assam and Meghalaya.
I quite like the spirit with which the dymic Union Sports Minister Sarbanda Sonowal is going about spearheading the preparations. This is not an event where anybody should look at scoring political brownie points. And, that is exactly what Sarbanda seems to suggest when he profusely thanked the Congress Chief Ministers of Assam and Meghalaya, Tarun Gogoi and Mukul Sangma respectively, for their cooperation in the conduct of the Games. “The prestige and honour of the Northeast is at stake. We should all endeavour to put in our best so that we can host our foreign guests well and conduct the Games smoothly”, Sonowal said. I would expect every single individual in Assam and Meghalaya to rise to the occasion and play perfect host to the 5000 foreign guests, both at the sporting ares as well as outside.
Assam and Meghalaya have jointly requested the Centre to make available an additiol 60 companies of paramilitary forces to provide security during the event. Guwahati Police Commissioner Mukesh Agarwal said that there would be security cover for every foreign visitor during their movement in Guwahati. That’s fine, but the best or full-proof security can be the one provided by the citizens of Assam and Meghalaya. One would expect every Guwahatian and every Shillongite to be extra vigilant during the days of the event so as to prevent any untoward incident that anti-tiol elements might try to create to tarnish the image of India and the Northeast.
I am actually fed up with the touting of the Northeast as the “Gateway to South East Asia”. But, to be honest, the SAF Games provides a great opportunity to project the region of 40 million people with its rich culture, heritage and tural resources to not just South Asia but to the world. Apart from Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan, the three countries that share direct borders with the Northeast, the Games will also have visitors from Afghanistan, Maldives, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and of course, from all over the country. The iugural and closing ceremonies, one understands, will have contingents from the region with some of the unique performances. I am glad Sarbanda Sonowal took up the challenge of hosting the event in Assam and Meghalaya, although the fil decision was intimated only six months ago. The need of the hour is for the Centre and the Governments of Assam and Meghalaya, besides everyone in the region to rise to the occasion and contribute their bit in making the Games a success.