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How Cong plans to 'manage' Bhopal issue

June 17, 2010 01:47 IST

Despite the attempts made by the opposition to keep the Bhopal tragedy alive, the Congress leadership has made efforts to put a deliberate closure on the issue.

The indication came after Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee stated that the then chief minister of Madhya Pradesh, Arjun Singh, had made a statement that time that he had decided to allow then CEO of Union Carbide Warren Anderson to leave the country keeping in the mind the prevailing tense situation in Bhopal, and only after Anderson had given him an assurance that he would be present in the country whenever the court required him to do so.

Highly placed sources in the Congress say that it was Arjun Singh's advice to Congress President Sonia Gandhi that his statement made after the disastrous gas leak should be used by the party to put matters in perspective.

Singh had met the Congress president to clear the air and inform her of what had taken place during those fateful days of December 1984.

But sources claim that Arjun Singh had asked the Congress supremo to ensure that a senior leader, either Pranab Mukherjee or Defence Minister A K Antony, and not anyone from the All India Congress Committee or the party media cell would give this crucial statement, as it would not serve the purpose.

Accordingly, Sonia Gandhi asked Pranab Mukherjee to handle the issue and he made the statement while on a visit to Kolkata, which had made it clear that this was the line that would be followed by the Congress in the days ahead.

And Arjun Singh of course, as a disciplined soldier of the party had kept his own counsel, being neither accessible to the media now making any statements either on or off the record.

It is expected that in the best traditions of the party, Arjun Singh, who had been discarded and left out in the cold having been removed from the council of ministers, may be adjusted back in a suitable position, according to his health and interest in the days ahead.

The Group of Minister taking care of the Bhopal tragedy, which is meeting on Friday, would look at the various other aspects of the matter, like how the government can amend the law to ensure that in future such crimes do not go virtually unpunished, the issue of curative petition to ensure that the punishment is enhanced from two to at least ten years, the issue of civil liability and other matters.

The issue of clean up of the area around the Union Carbide plant is an important one and needs to be resolved at the earliest, as to who will deal with it.

Meanwhile, Dow chemicals has been lobbying for an entry into India, particularly after the Union Cabinet had passed the seating up of five chemical hubs in various states with each of these estimated to have an investment of Rs 80,000 to 90,000 crores.

This means large-scale business opportunities for the government and immense possibilities of cooperation, sand since Dow is one of the biggest in the business, it is expected that the government would not be adverse to their entry.

But for this to materialise, Dow would have to publicly state that their intentions are clean and honourable, and if that means having to prove it by way of financial compensation or bringing in a clean up package, that would strengthen the government's case in allowing their entry into the country.

Sources say that there is no one better than the tough talking Pranab Mukherjee who can ensure that this is handled in the most delicate manner, which would suit everyone all around.

The Congress has now said that instead of finger pointing, the emphasis must now be on seeing how such incidents are not repeated in future, with the party spokesman Manish Tiwari calling it a systemic failure.

Tiwari said that 26 years down the line, with nine successive governments in place and a large number of eminent lawyers and others handling the matter, it would be unfair to say that everyone is a thief or that everyone had been bought over.

The Congress is obviously looking at using the GOM to bring in a long-term plan in place to send the signal that they would like to put matters on a corrective course.

Renu Mittal