By Badri Raina
That both under the erstwhile NDA regime, led by Atal Bihari Vajpai of the right-wing Hindu BJP (1998-2004) and the UPA regime (s) led by Manmohan Singh of the Congress Party (2004-2009, and since) a central feature of India’s foreign policy has been to draw closer to both the United States and Israel is not such a hidden feature of India’s post-reforms history anymore.
The more than considerate attentiveness to the interests of American corporates of course has been a long-term constant.
What I seek to do here is not so much to detail these histories as to draw a skein related to diverse episodes, one that seems intricately revelatory of a coherent macro policy intent, always latent among the Indian ruling classes but now more than ever in full bloom.
The Bhopal Mass Murder & Indian Collaboration with Carbide::
The details of this are by now too well-known to require iteration. Suffice it to say that on the night of December 3, 1984, lethal quantities of Methyl Isocyanate escaped from the Union Carbide factory, as water entered tank no.610.
Within hours, some 2500 citizens, most of them poor Muslims, lost their lives.
Since then, a total of 20,000 are estimated to have perished, and hundreds of thousands either maimed, or rendered permanenly disabled.
The only known antidote to the lethal gas, Sodium Thiosulphate, could not be reached the victims for one disingenuous reason or another. Forensic experts, fudged their reports, causing distortions in investigations over a long period.
The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) did, however, manage to file a chargesheet against Company officials in 1987. The charges included one under section 304 II of the Penal Code, “culpable homicide not amounting to murder” punishable by upto ten years in jail, a charge based on prior knowledge of the Company management that lacunae in the safety regulations at the plant, which did not correspond to safety features of a similar Carbide plant in West Virginia, could lead to disaster, and on their refusal to rectify the same despite admonitions and demands made that they do so. Ostensibly, to keep the costs of running the plant in check!
Whatever the other details, all in the public eye now several times over, the point of interest here is how Warren Anderson, the then CEO of UCIL was dealt with, and, secondly, how the highest court in India chose to view the matter.
That Anderson managed to escape the country is common knowledge; but only now do we know how that ignoble escape was facilitated.
And this we know from no less than the then Collector of the city of Bhopal, Moti Singh., from the officer who manned the airport at Bhopal, and the pilot who flew the plane that brought Anderson to Delhi, literally the very day the disaster happened.
Without mincing matters, the honourable Moti Singh has gone on record to say that on the evening of December 4, while Anderson was in local custody, Shri Singh received a call from the Chief Secretary, the highest ranking bureaucrat within the Indian system of government, to the effect that he wished to confer with Singh and the then Superintendent of Police.
At that meeting, Singh and the S.P were directed to release Anderson and to take him to the airport where a plane was waiting to fly him to Delhi.
It turns out that the state-owned plane was made available by the then Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, Shri Arjun Singh. Arjun Singh, it may be said, has always foregrounded himself in politics as a staunch secularist, and a diehard opponent of Hindutva communalism. Most of the those killed in Bhopal were Muslims.
Just today, an Arjun Singh acolyte and erstwhile chief minister of Madhya Pradesh, Digvijay Singh, has told the media that Arjun Singh was not to blame for Anderson’s great escape. He has pointed a finger at the then central government, led by the late Rajiv Gandhi, and at American “pressure.” Even as other Congress leaders, such as Satyavrat Chaudhary who was a Legislator in the Madhya Pradesh Assembly have said that it is for Arjun Singh, the then Congress chief minister, to break his silence to the nation.
It is a matter of interest that never in the last quarter century has such a demand been made by anyone,whether in the Congress or the BJP, a clear pointer to the fact that collaboration with American corporate interests cuts across party lines (leaving out the Left) and speaks for the ruling class per se.
One Indian media house claims now to have accessed a CIA file on the issue that records that Anderson’s exit was authorised by the then central government inorder not to jeopordise American corporate investments in India at a time when such investments were direly needed.
Were one to think of a parallel to the obscene escape of the Carbide CEO from the country and from liability, what comes to mind is the great escape of the whole Bin Laden clan from Texas, hours after the twin towers were hit, all in a plane made available by the Bush family. Indeed, it was the only plane allowed to leave the United States
in the wake of 9/11.
Thus, if the Indian rulers obliged the American corporate, the Americans obliged the Saudi oil bigwigs with whom the Bush family had intimate business relations.. Cute, cosy, and consistent with how global Capitalism works.
In Delhi, Anderson reportedly had a meeting with the then President of India, Giani Zail Singh. Next anybody knew, Anderson was off to safety in the United States where he has been spotted living a rich and comfy life in a mansion in New York.
Thus, although he remains an absconder-accused, prime one at that, and although an extradition treaty exists between India and the United States, the world has not exactly been turned upside down by any subsequent government in India to seek his return to face trial, nor is the US government likely to send him over. Indeed, recent statements of US spokesmen suggest in no unclear terms that such is farthest from their minds. Even as they also argue that Union Carbide, America, has no liability in the matter, nor Dow Chemicals which cannily took over Union Carbide India Ltd., inorder that further culpability of the UCIL could be snuffed in legalese.
In that endeavour, it now turns out, they also had support from within the government of India, Kamal Nath and Chidambaram, two influential ministers thought to be close to the United States and votaries of market fundamentalism, having forcefully argued against others that Dow should not be hauled up if investments from American corporates are to be encouraged.
Dow chemicals operations continue in the state of Maharashtra, ruled by the Congress, and in Gujarat, ruled by the BJP, and a ban on the corporate has never been on the table.
The sordid conspiracy to favour the corporate found its final expression in a ruling of the Supreme Court which held that the principle of vicarious responsibility did not apply in the case, and proceeded to water down the Chargesheet to “ criminal negligence”(Section 304 A) as it quashed the charge of “culpable homicide not amounting to murder.” This in 1996.
The then Chief Justice subsequently took over as lifetime chairman of the Carbide –funded Bhopal Memorial Hospital Trust, set up under the aegis of the Supreme Court of India. He is not embarrassed.
Thus, after a quarter century of the event, some seven or eight of the management of the then UCIL have been found guilty of “negligence” and convicted to a maximum of 2 years in prison!
But, not to fret, they are also promptly out on bail.
One other thing: the medical data from the disaster was consistently sought to be suppressed by the Indian Council of Medical Research
In the meanwhile, thousands of victims in Bhopal still have no redress to sustained medication, some 325 tons of toxic waste remains at and around the site (statement by the current Minister for Environment and Forests, Jairam Ramesh) as the water pipes continue to receive that lethal contamination.
Not to mention the other perfidy; an out of court settlement with the corporate to the measly tune of some 470 million dollars, amounting at last count to some 300 dollars or less per affected victim! A half of the declared victims yet to receive any.
When the Exxon Valdex spilled oil off the coast of Alaska (1989—five years after the Bhopal disaster), the damages were fixed at one billion dollars. Clearly, bird life in America was of greater value than the 20,000 human beings who died in Bhopal and the many thousands who have been maimed across generations.
And now, when after the BP spill in the gulf of Mexico, Obama seeks to “kick some ass” and reverse legislation that caps liability in the US at $75 million after the Alaska event under the oil lobby pressure, and to introduce criminal liability provisions, the Indian government is sought to be pressurized to cap Civil Liability for Nuclear Damages through parliamentary legislation at Rs.500 crores.
In other words, were a Chernobyl or a Three Mile Island to happen at a US corporate nuclear plant in India, the damages would be civil only, and about a half of that which was settled for the Bhopal disaster out of court! And, only the “operator” would be thus liable. Read, the Indian component of the management and not representatives or managers of the supplier company. Not the nuclear Andersons.
In the proposed new Liability Bill, significantly, section 17(b) which asks for “right to recourse” if a “nuclear incident has resulted from wilful or gross negligence on the part of the supplier or his employee” is sought now to be dropped under pressure from the American nuclear lobby and government.
The Israeli-Indian State-Hindutva Connect:
The total trade between India and Israel in 2001 was $200 million. By now that has grown to $4.1 billion. India is today the world’s biggest buyer of Israeli military hardware, to a tune of $9 billion. India is also currently weighing a most-favoured Free Trade Agreement with a country that was during the Nehru era the pariah of the Indian foregn policy establishment. It is thought that close cooperation now exists between Indian spy agencies and the Israeli Mossad, who have been in and out of the country recently.
The most recent evidence of the closeness has come in the form of the statement issued by the Indian foreign office on the Gaza-aid flotilla event. The statement, while deploring violent means to settle the dispute, does not name Israel.
But an even more sinister link has thus far been invisible to the pubic eye—one that concerns a connect between Hindu terrorist organizations and counterparts in Israel.
Between 2002 (the year of the Gujarat carnage) and 2009, a series of bomb blasts took place in
India, curiously all in areas dominated by Muslims:
- 2002: IED found at Bhopal railway station, aimed in all likelihood at Muslims gathering for a Tablighi conclave;
- 2003: bomb blast at Mohammadiya mosque in Parbhani, Maharashtra; and a bomb again found at Bhopal on the last day of a Tablighi meet;
- 2004: blasts at mosques and a Madarasa in Purna, and Jalna in Maharashtra;
- 2006: two Bajrang Dal activists killed in Nanded, Maharashtra, as the bomb they were making exploded;
—- blasts at three places in Malegaon, targeting a mosque and graveyard on the occasion of Shab-e-Baraat; 38 killed; Maharashtra;
- 2007: Feb.,18, 68 killed in a double suitcase bomb blast on the Samjhauta Express, a friendship train between India and Pakistan; of those 42 Pakistani nationals;
—in May (16th) blast at the Mecca Masjid in Hyderabad city; two Bajrang Dal activists again killed in Kanpur while assembling a bomb;
—October, 11: blast at the eight hundred year old Chishti Dargah in Ajmer, Rajasthan;
- 2008: a blast again at Malegaon in Maharashtra, and another at Modasa in Gujarat;
- 2009: two die while carrying a bomb on the eve of the festival of Diwali in Margao, Goa.
In all these cases, the investigating agencies promptly named one Muslim organization or the other as the culprit., hauled up hundreds of young Muslims, and used torture to draw “confessions.”
Until, that is, thanks to the exemplary and fair-minded efforts of the late Hemant Karkare, investigations revealed the hand of Hindu organizations in the Malegaon blast of 2008, leading to the arrest of Lt.Col. Srikanth Purohit, Dayanand Pandey, and Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur. Read more of this post