Indian Decade

Bhopal Haunts Congress

Desperate to protect Rajiv Gandhi’s image, Congress shifts the blame over Bhopal tragedy.

The woes of India’s ruling Congress party over the Bhopal gas tragedy are growing rather than diminishing, even though it’s more than a quarter of a century since the world’s worst industrial disaster.

Walter Anderson, the CEO of Union Carbide, who visited India days after the tragedy and was in effect culpable over what happened, was put on a US-bound plane on the orders of then Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. Rajiv’s widow, Sonia Gandhi, of course now leads the Congress party.

The Manmohan Singh government claims it has no records of who permitted Anderson to flee India, but it’s no secret that the government wants to protect Rajiv’s legacy. On the other hand, the opposition BJP and Left parties want to implicate him and destroy the pro-common man image of the Congress. The Congress has already seen its political base eroded in Madhya Pradesh because of the belated Bhopal blowback (as well as more current issues like inflation).

Out of loyalty for the Gandhis, the Madhya Pradesh chief minister during the Bhopal tragedy, Arjun Singh, sought to clear the former prime minister’s name over the Anderson escape scandal by blaming another ex-prime minister (and his bête noire), PV Narasimha Rao. The late Rao was home minister at that time, and Arjun Singh said he was ordered by Rao to release Anderson, who had been arrested, and assist him in leaving the country.

Singh’s apparently false statement in the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of Parliament, has been met with shock and disgust throughout the country. Meanwhile, Rao’s eldest son has disputed Singh’s version of events.

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While the Congress leadership is privately happy with Singh’s exoneration of Rajiv Gandhi, it can’t celebrate in public—the slandering of Rao could wreck Congress prospects in his home state of Andhra Pradesh.