Wednesday, June 16, 2010

ANDERSON'S ARREST, RELEASE STAGE-MANAGED?

Warren Anderson, the then Chairman of Union Carbide Corp, was arrested on arrival at Bhopal airport at 10:10 AM on December 07, 1984, along with Keshub Mahindra, Chairman Union Carbide India Ltd and Vijay Kumar Gokhale, senior official of the company, under various sections of the IPC including 304 (culpable homicide not amounting to murder), a non-bailable offence.

Moti Singh, the then District Collector of Bhopal has revealed that Chief Minister Arjun Singh had called him and the Superintendent of Police, Swaraj Puri, to his house in the morning, gave their arrival details and ordered that they be arrested on arrival. The duo then went to the airport, took them into custody and put them in Union Carbide guest house. RC Jain, who was Agriculture Secretary in the MP government at the time, has further revealed that Chief Secretary Brahma Swaroop came to know about the arrests only around 10:30 when the DC and the SP rushed into his office while he was holding his daily meeting of the core group on the Bhopal tragedy. In the meantime, Arjun Singh had left for an election rally which, according to what Swaroop shared with his colleagues, was also attended by Rajiv Gandhi.

As per Jain, during the meeting Swaroop received a call from Arjun Singh at around 11:30 AM, less than 90 minutes after Anderson had been arrested, who told him that Anderson had to be released. On being told that it was impossible to do so, he was asked "to find a way to do so". To cut the story short, a little after 2 PM, within four hours of being arrested, Anderson was not only released, with the IPC 304 charge deleted, on a $ 2000 bond furnished without appearing before a magistrate, he was even put on a government plane and escorted like a VIP to Delhi.

The official line given by Arjun Singh then, and reiterated by Pranab Mukherjee after 25 years, was that Anderson had to be sent out of Bhopal because people's tempers were running high and the law and order situation was getting out of hand. Could this have happened within one and a half hours of Anderson's quiet arrival about which virtually no one knew, and his detention in the Union Carbide guest house? Would those affected by the disaster have even known who Anderson was? Would the anger of the people not been directed more against the local management and even Keshub Mahindra? And who informed Arjun Singh that such a situation has erupted? If the DC and the SP who were personally asked by the CM to arrest Anderson were not aware of any such development then who was?

Furthermore, if there really was such a difficult situation -- an impossibility due to reasons explained above -- any democratic government, and that too in the middle of an election campaign, would have taken pains to assuage the pain and anger of the people by making a Anderson's arrest a very public affair. Also, if law and order in Bhopal was the real concern, Anderson should have been moved to another city in Madhya Pradesh or elsewhere in India and kept under arrest, not released so quickly.

So this whole story is not only an illogical lie and an afterthought to conceal the truth, it also proves beyond doubt that Arjun Singh did not order Anderson's release from an election rally on his own.

On of the theories doing the rounds is that Anderson was released so quickly because Rajiv Gandhi received a call from Ronald Regan and that since India was then a weak country that could not stand up to the pressure of the US, Rajiv had no choice. But there is something seriously wrong in this argument. Arjun Singh ordered Anderson's release in less than an hour and a half of his arrest. Rajiv Gandhi -- and this can be verified by media hounds -- was at an election rally somewhere in MP then. What are the odds that in this small window of time -- there were no mobile phones those days -- Anderson made a call to the US President who in turn made a call to Rajiv who, without asking for any inputs from the Foreign Ministry that he then headed or anyone else, took no more than a couple of minutes to ask Arjun Singh to release him?

Was, then, this whole arrest-release drama stage-managed by Rajiv Gandhi, with Arjun Singh its unsuspecting/willing executor? If you read on, this theory might appear to be not only possible but the only possible one.

Gordon Streeb, formed deputy chief of mission of US embassy in Delhi has said that Anderson sought and was given guarantee of safe return to the US, with the Indian government giving an assurance that no steps would be taken against him during his visit. After Anderson was arrested, Streed spoke to MK Rasgotra, his "chief interlocuter during this period" and was assured that India would honour its commitment. A report in the Pittsburg Post Gazette of December 7, 1984, link posted on Twitter and made available by Offstumped, confirms that the government had indeed promised a safe passage. It also says that Anderson's release on $2000 bond was secured after delicate negotiations between the US and Indian governments. Mysteriously, John Dean, the then US ambassador to India substantiates the argument that something serious was afoot. He says he was kept out of the loop and told to "stay out of this legal confrontation" (page 20/81). Note the expression.

How could there have been any "delicate negotiations" and "legal confrontation" between the governments of India and the US if Arjun Singh had acted on his own in ordering the release of Anderson within 90 minutes of his arrest, and reported completion to Rajiv Gandhi as reported in sections of the media? In fact, given the guarantees that the government of India had given, could Arjun Singh have even dared to arrest Anderson on his own and that too in the surreptitious manner that he did, involving no one other than the DC and SP of Bhopal city? This also means that there was either no call from Regan to Rajiv after the arrest or that Rajiv did not capitulate immediately, as some are suggesting. If indeed negotiations did place, as is evident they did, then what could have been the "confrontation" about? At that level, it had to be serious, really serious, either at the national or personal level. That means a deal was struck to let Anderson fly back.

There is undoubtedly something really dirty here that is being hidden. Anderson's arrest and freedom was manifestly traded over the dead and dying. But what it is that he was traded for?

Formed bureaucrat BS Raghavan believes that Rajiv bargained Anderson for Adil Shariyar, son of Muhammad Yunus who was "almost a part of the Indira Gandhi family, and a mentor of both Rajiv Gandhi and Sanjay Gandhi". Shariyar was convicted by US court in 1982 on charges that included trying to blow up a ship, illegal possession of firearms and carrying them across State borders and drug trafficking, and sentenced to 35 years in prison. Yunus left no stone unturned to get his release but failed. But, miraculously, seven months after Anderson was released, Shahriyar was granted presidential pardon “as a goodwill gesture” and “for reasons of state”. Good will gesture to whom and what reasons of state for a person convicted of such dangerous crimes and with no connection to the state except the one mentioned above?

Anderson may have been traded for money too, in addition to Shahriyar. The money, big money, in any case did come in later.

Consider this: As per Free Lance Star of December 10, 1984, San Francisco attorney Melvin Belli had filed a $15 billion class action suit in the US on behalf of two Bhopal survivors. Lawyers from Washington were also preparing anther suit on behalf of the victims. Any government in the world would have assisted in efforts to ensure that the victims of what was clearly criminal negligence got the maximum possible compensation. But what did the Rajiv government do? It hurriedly passed the Bhopal Gas Leak Disaster (Processing of Complaints) Act, effective from February 25, 1985 to ensure that exactly the opposite happened.

The Act denied victims the right to go to court individually and made the state their sole representative. And what did it do as their sole representative? It sold them cheap. Dirt cheap. To begin with, it filed a law suit for only $3 billion. In turn, the UCC proposed a settlement figure of $350 million. Nudged by the Supreme court -- something here too? -- an out of court settlement was reached in 1989, with the UCC agreeing to pay a paltry $ 475 million. This is less than 3% of just one claim that was filed in a US court and only 15% of what even the government had claimed.

The government quietly allowed the to UCC get away clean by paying a pittance, a humiliating $2000 to the family of the dead. That is, yes, Rs 30,000 only at the then average exchange rate of around Rs 15 a dollar. Anyone know why?

It appears that the mass massacre of the Sikhs in 1984 and the Bofors scam that felled Rajiv Gandhi's government are not the biggest skeletons resting in the cabinet. The Bhopal Gas tragedy is probably bigger than both combined. But given the manner in which many other scandals in the recent past have disappeared with almost no trace, only a die hard optimist will believe that this one will tumble out, involving as it does, the only Family of the country.
'