ndsharma's blog

Two ‘gems’ in Manmohan council of ministers

Posted on: September 28, 2009

Shashi Tharoor and Jairam Ramesh are two gems in Manmohan Singh’s council of ministers. This is the observation of a senior Congress leader who, though, refused to join Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot in seeking Tharoor’s resignation for his “cattle class” controversy; the Congress leader said that he was not “as big a leader” as Gehlot.
Tharoor operates at the international level and his twittering naturally got the global attention. Ramesh indulged into his grotesquery in Bhopal on a subject which, in any case, is much too sensitive compared to Tharoor’s warped sense of humour.
Holding forests and environment portfolio in the rank of Minister of State, Ramesh visited the site where once stood the Union Carbide’s pesticide factory, the massive leak of MiC gas from which had killed thousands and damaged the vital organs of lakhs of others a quarter century ago. He also visited Van Vihar National Park where he violated the provisions of the Wildlife Act by holding a non-venomous snake and playing with it in front of the photographers. The erudite (?) minister likened, at a press conference later, Mohammed Ali Jinnah to Lord Mahesh, saying that Gandhi, Nehru and Jinnah were like Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh, the trinity of the Hindu pantheon.
But it was his visit to the site of the erstwhile Union Carbide factory and his subsequent observations that put him into the category of “gems”. Asked at his press conference as to why the tax payers should pay for removal of the thousands of tonnes of chemical wastes which had been dumped by the Union Carbide and had for decades been seeping into the ground and affecting the ground water around the site, the minister promptly said that he had touched the chemical waste and every one could see that he was neither dead nor coughing.
Then he added that there were some “uncomfortable truths” in the MiC gas leak 25 years ago, insinuating that the gas leak was the result of sabotage by the local people and not the result of negligence of Union Carbide in any way. That is exactly the line which Union Carbide (and now Dow Chemical in which Union Carbide has merged) has taken all along. That the Prime Ministers P.V.Narasimha Rao, Atal Behari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh have not taken seriously the Bhopal court’s order to extradite then chairman of Union Carbide Warren Anderson and produce him in the court to stand trial for his role in the world’s biggest industrial disaster is bad enough; now a member of Manmohan Singh’s council of ministers mouthing the language of Union Carbide/Dow Chemical was a bit too much.
Protest demonstration
The survivors of the MiC gas leak held a demonstration to protest against the obnoxious remarks of Jairam Ramesh and were beaten up by Shivraj Singh Chauhan’s police which has made a sort of record by beating up almost every section of society from former chief minister Digvijay Singh to teachers to professors to girl students to blind persons to farmers to tribals. (For a change, the Hindu organisations like Uma Bharati’s Bharatiya Jana Shakti, Shiv Sena and Hindu Manch also joined the gas victims in the protest against the minister for comparing Jinnah with Mahesh).
Convener of Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Udyog Sangathan (BGPMUS) Abdul Jabbar and others termed the minister’s statement as unfortunate and insensitive. Jabbar said that Ramesh’s statement amounted to contempt of the Bhopal court, the Madhya Pradesh High Court and the Supreme Court as all these courts had issued interim orders “on the criminal liability of the owners of Union Carbide for the lethal gas leak”.
Rachna Dhingra of Bhopal Group for Information and Action felt that the “minister’s attempt to play down the hazards of the chemical wastes show how low politicians can stoop to win favours of their corporate master”.
Later from Delhi, Ramesh contacted some leaders of the gas victims and expressed his peremptory apology to them for his remarks about the gas leak. He even sent emails to some individuals. It is said that the PMO had conveyed its displeasure to Ramesh for raking up the unsavoury controversy. If that is so, it must be the bad publicity (anything concerning Bhopal gas/Union Carbide is promptly picked up by the US press) on the eve of Manmohan Singh’s visit to the US which must have upset the Prime Minister; Singh is, otherwise, not known to have taken any initiative to alleviate the suffering of the gas victims or facilitate trial of the culprits.
But did Ramesh really feel that it was wrong on his part to talk like that about the Bhopal gas? One doubts it. I emailed to him urging him to apologise publicly since he had made his obnoxious remarks publicly. His cryptic reply was: “In case you don’t know I have already apologised to Jabbarbhai orally and in writing”. Is the issue of Bhopal gas and toxic wastes Abdul Jabbar’s personal matter?

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