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Bhopal case: Arjun absolves Rajiv Gandhi, blames Narasimha Rao

Source: PTI
Last updated on: August 11, 2010 20:29 IST
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Breaking his silence, Congress leader Arjun Singh on Thursday appeared to point fingers at late P V Narasimha Rao in the exit of former Union Carbide chief Warren Anderson in the wake of the Bhopal gas disaster in 1984, thereby giving a clean chit to the then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi.

"The chief secretary informed me that there have been persistent calls for granting bail to Anderson from home ministry officials in Delhi," said Singh, who was the Madhya Pradesh chief minister then. He appeared to be passing the onus to Rao, who was then the Union home minister.

Singh, who did not share a good relationship with Rao during his days as the human resource development minister in Rao's Cabinet at the Centre later, said he had ordered the arrest of Anderson.

The Bhopal gas tragedy, the world's worst industrial disaster in December, 1984, had claimed more than 15,000 lives,

Singh said he had informed Gandhi, who was in Harsukh town in Madhya Pradesh, immediately after the arrest of Anderson on December 6, 1984.

"Rajivji did not utter a single word in the next two days either in support of Anderson orĀ  to mitigate his problem. Attaching motive to the then prime minister would be a figment of imagination of persons who can see nothing constructive of a person of that stature," he said, giving a clean chit to Gandhi.

Ever since a Bhopal court gave a light punishment to the accused in the gas disaster case, there have been allegations that Gandhi had a hand in the exit of Anderson soon after his arrest in the case.

Anderson was 'directly responsible' for the tragedy and the government should push for his extradition and seek 'adequate and full' compensation for the tragedy, said Singh.

He said Prime Minister Manmohan Singh should take up the issue with United States President Barack Obama during his forthcoming visit.

Giving for the first time his side of the story, Singh said it was "incongruous that Anderson took a state plane to leave Bhopal" but did not go into the details, saying he did "not want to enlarge on these things as it would add grief and bitterness".

Narrating the sequence of events that started with the gas leakage on December 3, 1984, 80-year old Singh said Rajiv Gandhi was in Harsud when Anderson was arrested.

"There had been persistent calls for granting bail to Anderson from the home ministry in Delhi. I told him (MP chief secretary) that he can do whatever he likes, but the arrest should be duly recorded so that we can summon him whenever we want," said Singh, who has been under attack for allegedly allowing Anderson to leave the country after he was arrested.

Singh said he had met Rajiv Gandhi and narrated the events leading to the arrest of Anderson.

Gandhi "heard me out without any comment and said let us move to another (election) meeting. Rajivji did not have any kind of sympathy for anyone, much less Mr Anderson," said Singh.

"I am not shifting any blame on anybody. Whatever is the blame, I am ready to suffer as an ordinary citizen. The clamour for my speaking out should now subside," he said.

Justifying the state government's decision to take Anderson to an official guest house after his arrest, the then chief minister said he had to carry out this job "with a heavy heart" in order to prevent any physical or personal harm to the Union Carbide chief.

Maintaining that a large number of people, particularly the next of kin of people who had died, had gathered outside the airport, Singh said he would have been "lynched from the nearest lamp-post" had the people come to know about Anderson's arrival.

Singh said Andersen, whom he tauntingly described as 'Bada Saheb', had the audacity to come to Bhopal after the tragedy even though he was directly responsible for it.

"He could not be coming to share our grief," Singh said.

After his arrest, while he was being escorted to the guest house, Andersen kept asking why the chief minister was not saving him. "That is the kind of arrogance these people have," said Singh.

He said he was not seeking a 'bargain' from anybody for recounting the events with 'great anguish'.

He said allegations against him were started by a handful of people. "In our country, gossip has a stronger force than reason," Singh said while noting that he had set up a commission of inquiry which could start by questioning him.

Singh said India had 'unspoken promises' from the United States on Anderson's extradition and the prime minister should take up this issue with US President Barack Obama when the latter visits India in November.

"Adequate and full compensation can be asked from him (Obama)," Arjun Singh said. He said news reports had quoted Obama as saying that "Let somebody make a reference to us (about Anderson), then we will see."

Not satisfied with Singh's version, Leader of Opposition Arun Jaitley said that the senior Congress leader was attributing blame on people who were not alive.

"He has conveniently shifted the decision to release Anderson to the then chief secretary who is no more and some unknown home ministry officials. Dead men tell no tale," he said.

Jaitley added that "when the then prime minister (Rajiv Gandhi) did not have any sympathy (for Anderson), why did he listen to the home ministry".

He said Singh's statement concealed more than it revealed.

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