India's inaugural F1 race: speeding past the poor

Tue Oct 25, 2011 9:40am EDT
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By Alistair Scrutton

SALARPUR, India (Reuters) - India will hold its first Grand Prix this weekend - a glitzy coming-out party for an emerging economic juggernaut that is lost on villagers like Meera, standing by a fetid pond near the brand new Formula One race track with a child covered in warts.

"What is this Formula One? I learnt only recently that some of our land was acquired for it," said Meera, a mother of four who goes by one name. The floodlights of the $400 million F1 circuit that can hold 100,000 roaring spectators could be seen in the distance.

Seen by its supporters as an example of how India's private companies can organize complex, hi-tech and global events, the Grand Prix has re-ignited India's perennial questioning of how far the country should go down the globalization road.

For critics, it is an example of skewed economic growth, an elitist event where even the cheapest tickets are unaffordable for most people and an event that has no roots among India's 1.2 billion people.

For the moment, that questioning is lost in a media frenzy.

Boosted by Lady Gaga, Bollywood and cricket stars, the Grand Prix may help India regain its self confidence after a scandal-plagued Commonwealth Games sparked headlines mocking the Asian power's arrival on the world stage.

Run by Jaypee Sports International, a subsidiary of the Jaypee Group construction and infrastructure giant, the F1 event has come in on schedule with almost none of the cost overruns, corruption and shoddy construction that plagued the government-run Commonwealth Games last year.

"The world's perception of India is going to change after the Grand Prix and people will forget what happened because of the Commonwealth Games," Jaiprakash Gaur, founding chairman of the Jaypee Group, told local media.   Continued...

<p>Labourers use brushes to sweep dust and stones from an access road to the Buddh International Circuit, the venue for the first ever Indian Formula One race at Greater Noida, on the outskirts of New Delhi October 21, 2011. REUTERS/Parivartan Sharma</p>