Bhopal 1984 and the Anderson saga

The Hindu op-ed piece that marks  the 25th anniversary of the Bhopal gas tragedy,  makes the point : The powerful can always count on official helpVidya Subrahmaniam writes about the refusal by the then Union Carbide chief Warren Anderson to answer summons from an Indian court ;  and its ruling declaring him as  ‘untraceable’ and a ‘fugitive from justice’.  While reality is  that   Mr Anderson,  now 88,  has all through these years been leading  a ‘life of luxury’ in his private estate in New York state.

What about his extradition ?  India can’t be faulted for not making a formal request in  2003,  some 19 years after the event.  And it took the US government yet another year to reject India’s request.  The latest is  that  a fresh warrant of arrest has been issued by a Bhopal court ; and  CBI ordered to produce Mr Anderson in court.
I happened to have preserved The Times of India report  on Mr Anderson’s   arrest,  25 years ago,  when he landed in Bhopal in the wake of the gas tragedy that claimed at least 2,000 lives and left physically impared thousands of others.

Mr Anderson and two other company executives were picked up by police from the tarmac  as their plane landed at Bhopal,  driven off through a side gate ( presumably,  to evade a bunch of  waiting news reporters) ; taken  to the Union Carbide guest house,  where they stayed for a couple of hours before being put  on the state government plane  to be flown back to New Delhi.

The media,  effectively kept away from the visitors,  were handed out,  as Mr Anderson was safely airborne,  a press statement that said  1) Mr Anderson was charged with 304 IPC (culpable homicide not amounting to murder) , and Sections 304(A),  120(B),  278,  284,  426 and 429;  and  2)  released on a bond of Rs.25,000,  on the surety furnished by a company official.

Those figures  cited from the statute book relate to offences  such as causing death by negligence,  committing mischief,  criminal conspiracy,  making the atmosphere noxious, negligent conduct with respect to poisonous substance and mischief by killing or maiming cattle.

The charges looked pretty stiff in cold print.  As the then chief minister Arjun Singh noted in a his statement,  the government could not remain  ‘ a hapless spectator’  to the tragedy….and the power of the state was  ‘committed to fight for its citizens’ rights’.  Mr Arjun Singh has never been short of fitting words,  tailored to suit a given  occasion.

As for Mr Anderson’s comfortable   ‘house-arrest’  in his company  guest-house, well  protected from media media menace;  his release,  and the trip back to Delhi in the state plane,  an official spokesman came up with this explanation:  ‘Mr Anderson’s presence (in Bhopal) might provoke strong passions against him…and  (he was released) also  because we do not consider his presence in the country desirable’.

So much for the Arjun Singh  government’s  commitment  to fight for the rights of its citizens.

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Citizen Musharraf talks peace

His folks at Islamabad had tried to dissuade him from visiting India, said Gen. (retd.) Pervez Musharraf.  He knew we would ask him combative questions. That he  chose to come nonetheless, and stood his ground at a Q & A session in New Delhi, Saturday last, earned him a standing ovation.  His audience included our former army chief Gen. (retd.) V P Mallik,  J & K’s Farooq Abdullah,  ex-attorney general Soli Sorabjee, ‘Samajwadi’ Amar Singh,  leading members from the media and corporate India. 

The former Pakistan army general  said  he was here to talk peace. The burden of his piece was that India and Pakistan would do well to bury their past, stop the blame game; and move on with the confidence-building excercise to bring peace to the region. Citizen Musharraf  evidently had problem convincing a sceptical audience.  But then, he noted, anyone from India  facing a comparable audiance in Pakistan would face the same music. Would someone from India want to try ?  Anyway, the Musharraf Q & A, televised by Headlines Today, were moderated by Mr Aroon Purie of India Today. And , thank you, Mr Purie, for a  live telecast without commercial break.

Gen.Musharraf would like to see India stop the Pak army and ISI bashing. And in response to a query, he observed the RAW was doing the very thing India accused ISI of;  and until they both stopped working against each other, India-Pakistan relations wouldn’t improve.  Soli Sorabjee came up with suggestion : How about handing  over Dawood Ibrahim to India? When Gen. Musharraf  wouldn’t agree that such a hand-over would change  ground realities  Mr Purie cut in to quip, “why not try it (handing over), sir?”. To which Gen.Musharraf countered, “What, if it doesn’t work?  Would he (Dawood Ibrahim) be handed back to us?”.

 Gen Musharraf has a way with words. You may recall , during a US visit he was asked by TV guy Jon Stewart, “where is Osama bin Laden ?”

“I don’t know,” deadpanned  Gen.Musharraf, “Do you(know where to find him)?  You lead on,we’ll follow you” (laughter). This was the fist time a sitting head-of-state  appeared on Jon Stewart’s satirical show on Comedy Central. 

Next Q:  George W Bush and Osama bin Laden; who’d win a popular vote in Pakistan ?

Gen.Musharraf:  “I think they’ll both lose miserably”. 

I don’t suppose Bush would have taken it kindly. But then, as the general told a questioner at the India Today Conclave, “I don’t believe in hypocrisy”.   Now that he is no longer in power, Gen.Musharraf  is, presumably, in the process of finding a role for himself;   he would like to do whatever he can to further the peace agenda,  to promote wider people-to-people contact.

Why not make  the general a  ‘peace envoy’  for the Indian sub-continent? He might out-shine Tony Blair , Europe’s  peace envoy to the Middle-East.  Speaking of p2p contact, Gen.Musharraf  could use his  influence to mobilise young  bloggers  such as Mayank Austen Soofi to  network  informed youth in Pakistan and India.  They are the ones who would be more amenable to burying the murky past;  and moving on,  to focus  on the positives. New Delhi-based Mayank  runs, what the Pak media  termed,  ‘the website that teaches you neighbourly love’.

Of Obama and his BlackBerry

Reading about the US presidential right to keep his  BlackBerry, with certain restrictions on access,   I wondered  if  Joe the Plumber  would get  on Obama’s e-mail list. If  he doesn’t,  I don’t see how else can the  ‘people’s president’   stay in touch with folks at the grass-roots level .  Of course,  he  gets   feedback from his trusted Chicago friends  who are security-cleared for inclusion in President’s BlackBerry contacts list.  But it would not  be quite the same for Mr Obama as getting an e-mail from the man on the street.  MOTS,  on their part,  can no longer shoot a mail addressed  barack.obama dot com ,  giving vent to their concerns  on the bailout of General Motors or  the fallout of Gauntanamo closure;  and offering advice to their president on the pedigree that fits in with the White House protocol. 

A NYT article  says  Mr Obama has won the BlackBerry battle he has been waging with his  ‘handlers’.  Was amused by the newsaper reporter’s use of the word  ‘handlers’.  We tend to associate it with handling pets .   The  word may give a handle to newspaper cartoonists.   While on the subject I wonder what the latest is on the search for a puppy  for the Obama White House.  Such is the train of thoughts the use of the word  ‘handlers’ can evoke.

The media in the US,  tracking  the race for the title of  ‘First Dog’ at the  Obama White House,  has now  another Obama  story to chase.  Wouldn’t we all want to be kept informed as to  who makes it to the President’s BlackBerry list, and who doesn’t ? And the story would  not go away so long as there are people lobbying for inclusion. And then there may be some with whom Mr Obama would  want to be in e-mail touch, but can’t, because  they may have problem getting  BlackBerry clearance from the Obama handlers.

Gaza under ground attack.

After a week of pounding from air Israelis moved their troops into Gaza strip. TV channels,  notably CNN,  kept up  a running coverage,  but their reporting was from the Israel end,  for no foreign journalist has been allowed into  Gaza. 100_0571100_0562TV doesn’t take us behind this picture of  smoking  Gaza.  It takes a  blogger to give us a sense of the misery and hardhip of ordinary Gazans,  whose most normal condition of life  today is its uncertainty.  A US-based blogger Laila El-Haddad,  who has, till now,  managed to stay in touch with her parents in  Gaza,  shares her thoughts on the plight of  Gazans, trapped in their homes and nowhere to go for safety.

100_0566Excerpts from Laila’s blog post,  after a call to her father,  a physician in Gaza, soon after the land offensive  started on Saturday night:  He said Israel destroyed 3 JAWAL  centers (the mobile  provider); so many mobile phones, including his own,  are  down,  but his landline is functional.. He tells me that a building behind my cousin’s house in Gaza City was destroyed,  and is now burning down in a voracious fire.  It had an orphanage in it.  My mother says she won’t lie..they are terrified.  100_0568

Flares and firebombs are being shot to light up the sky.  Propaganda fliers telling the people of Gaza that  “they chose Hamas and Hamas has abandoned them”;  that “Hamas  will lead them to catastrophe”…and calling on them  (Gazans) to “take charge of their destiny” and to call a given phone number or email with tips and then a warning  to call  “in secrecy” (thanks for the tip). Israel is also  broadcasting on al-Aqsa TV station there.

100_0563

A sampling of a spate of comments to Laila’s post:

It happened in Bosnia-Herzegovina,  it happened in  Rwanda,  it’s happening in Darfur and what exactly should  we call the mass murder of Palestinian civilians?  Surely not a “quest for peace”.

We are so frustrated,  we go to rallys,  we blog but we feel so helpless. We call our cousins and they sound so scared it frustrates us – Nadia Hammad

I just watched the CNN news interview with you (Laila) and your dad.  I can’t belive how your dad, mashallah,  controlled himself while under attack and you didn’t lose it either listening to him . 

I am a Canadian…non Arab, non Muslim…but a human being and a mother. I cry for the Palestinians just as I did for the people in Lebanon and the Iraqis.

Flying shoes at Bush news conference

It happened so suddenly that you couldn’t believe your own eyes. Television viewers the world over watched US  President George W Bush duck his head to dodge a throw of shoes from a TV reporter in Baghdad. It happened at a joint-news conference he addressed with Iraq Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki during President Bush’s farewell visit to Iraq.

100_04714Live TV footage, I watched it on BBC, captured the flight of the shoe  as it zipped past the VIPs at the podium. I was struck by the president’s presence of mind in dodging a flying shoe, twice in quick succession.  I wish I had the presence of mind to reach for my amateur camera when I saw the visuals the first time.   I waited for  a re-relecast an hour later to get these  images. 

 100_04721The missle-launcher,  identified as an Iraqi TV reporter  Muntadar-al-Zeida,  used both his shoes to have his say.  They were size 10.  And,  as Mr Bush put it,  “the guy wanted to get on TV and he did”

100_0479 He appeared calm and collected,   Mr Bush I mean.  In an interview with ABC news channel the president described the incident as,  perhaps,  the weirdest of things he had witnessed during his presidency. As  Mr Bush put it ,  “I’ve seen a lot of weird things during my presidency and this may rank up there as one of the weirdest….I thought it was unusual to have a guy throw his show at you. But I’m not insulted…I don’t think the Iraqi press corps as a whole is terrible.  And so,  the guy wanted to get on TV and he did.  I don’t know what his beef is”.

 NYT:  President Dodges Iraqi Journalist’s Shoes

Rahul Gandhi on lal-batthi VIP

Rahul Gandhi has got it right ;  and  voiced it at the proper  place – Lok Sabha. He is cited as saying, public  outrage in the wake of  Mumbai26/11 was really about  prevelant perception  that the country had stopped valuing lives of the commoner ;  India only bothered about lal-batthi VIPs (the type that goes about in cars fitted with revolving red-light).

“We have to change how we view the lives of individuals,”  Amethi MP   said in Lok Sabha,  adding that the powers that be had to decide that not a single life would go  in vain.

Excellent thought;  which is best conveyed to people through official action.  They could decide,  for instance,  to review the system of providing state-sponsored security to politicians and other public figures facing threat to personal life.  Those in the Z category get  ‘black cat’  protection.   If someone were to seek details under RTI Act pertaining to  the number of our politicians who enjoy this privilege,  we can get a sense of how many among them deserve such entitlement, from the security viewpoint.  Z category shouldn’t be seen as a status symbol.  Besides,  one wonders if  those once  given black-cat protection ever think of surrendering the privilege after they retire or the official perception of  threat to their lives is  considerably reduced.

Rahul Gandhi who in his Lok Sabha speech is reported to have said some sensible things would indeed neutralise , to some  extent,  the public outrage  he referred to ,  if only he were to follow up his words with a demand for a case-by-case review of  security-threat status of  lal-batthiwallahs   under black cat cover.  And ensure that the home ministry takes a critical look at the security entitlement criteria.