Barack Obama was not elected to ensure justice for the Indian victim. He is in the White House to protect American business, and defend the two-laws theory that motivates American international relations, whether in war or peace. When 11 American workers were killed in an oil rig blowup in the Gulf of Mexico, Washington demanded $1.5 billion from BP. Nearly 20,000 dead in Bhopal, half a million affected, and the total compensation is $470 million. Do the math. Obama has promised to penalize BP for the current oil spill to the extent of many billions of dollars. Magistrate Manoj Tiwari wants only Rs 5 lakh as reparation from Carbide for mass slaughter. – M.J. Akbar
Delhi has set the gold standard for cynicism. It operates on four axioms: public memory is a dwarf; anger is effervescent; media can be massaged at the appropriate moment; any public crisis can be assuaged with crumbs, while the promotion of private interests continues off-screen.
Jairam Ramesh’s promise of a Green Tribunal in Bhopal is a classical instance of a crumb dipped in the pickle of hypocrisy. Where was this or any other tribunal in the last 26 years when the dead, the deformed and blind babies and the stillborn fetuses were a reminder that justice must be done? Or is this tribunal meant for the next onslaught by the dogs of chemical war upon the sleeping slums of Bhopal? Who was Veerappa Moily trying to fool when he claimed that the case against Warren Anderson had not been closed? Why doesn’t he keep the case open for a few more years, until God closes the chapter by taking Anderson away to whichever destination has been allotted to the butcher of Bhopal? A Group of Ministers has been appointed — merely to buy time until the return of amnesia.
The true Bhopal verdict was delivered within four days of the tragedy, in December 1984, not on June 7, 2010, when Anderson was smuggled out of Bhopal on a state government aircraft and then put on a plane to America. Since then we have witnessed a pretend-justice farce played out by government, police and the judiciary, including the Supreme Court. The last is most culpable, since we hold a Chief Justice of India like A M Ahmadi to higher standards of probity than we do politicians or policemen. Ahmadi got his proper thank you note after he retired.
Chief judicial magistrate Mohan Tiwari’s judgment served only one useful purpose. The sheer scale of its magnanimity towards the accused lit a fuse under the volcano of collective guilt. The lava is spewing from myriad crevices, scorching and burning manylayered masks that have hidden deceit for a generation. As memories were stoked, officials, some perhaps frustrated by the fact that their silence had not been rewarded, revealed how successive governments had intervened to slow down the judicial process and sabotage any chance of Anderson’s extradition. Union Carbide and its collaborators, including Indians of course, have sustained themselves with a lie, that it was an Indian disaster since the plant was built and run by Indians. The design is an exact replica of an American plant, and an American who was terrified of being tried in India was in charge of management.
The political establishment assumed that June 7 would be just another day in a long calendar, possibly punctuated by an occasional, futile scream. The court was fortified, and entry denied to petitioners, victims and media. My one memory of this courtroom, gleaned from television, shall be of the smug grin of an obese policemen laughing at two old women, their faces contorted by rage and frustration, who knew that the system which had stolen their lives had also cheated their children in death.
Trust me: if thousands of politicians, or their cousins, the nouveau riche, had died on that apocalyptic night in Bhopal, Anderson would still be in an Indian prison, rather than in America, protected by his company, and the company that his company keeps. But only the poor died in Bhopal. We treat our poor as dispensable chattel whose death is meaningless in the economic calculus, since there is no shortage of supply. Bhopal is class war.
Is it surprising — or not? — that while even the Obama administration jumped in with some gratuitous advice, Dr Manmohan Singh had nothing to say? Perhaps the Prime Minister would have been repetitive. In essence, the signal from Washington and Delhi is the same: forget the dead, get on with multinational life.
Barack Obama was not elected to ensure justice for the Indian victim. He is in the White House to protect American business, and defend the two-laws theory that motivates American international relations, whether in war or peace. When 11 American workers were killed in an oil rig blowup in the Gulf of Mexico, Washington demanded $1.5 billion from BP. Nearly 20,000 dead in Bhopal, half a million affected, and the total compensation is $470 million. Do the math. Obama has promised to penalize BP for the current oil spill to the extent of many billions of dollars. Magistrate Manoj Tiwari wants only Rs 5 lakh as reparation from Carbide for mass slaughter.
When Exxon was fined $5 billion for the Alaska oil spill, nearly $40,000 was spent on the rehabilitation of every affected sea otter. The victims of Bhopal are, so far, entitled to $200 each.
Don’t do the math. It may turn you into a cynic.
» M. J. Akbar is a columnist for Times of India.
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