Cong says Arjun must explain Anderson release

Written by Political Bureau | New Delhi | Updated: Jun 12 2010, 07:49am hrs
Pressure mounted on former Madhya Pradesh chief minister Arjun Singh to reveal the circumstances under which his government released former Union Carbide chief Warren Anderson shortly after his arrest in December 1984 for the Bhopal gas leak disaster.

The Congress, which was in power both at the Centre and in Madhya Pradesh at the time of the incident, on Friday put the onus on the then state government and senior leaders like Digvijay Singh and RK Dhawan also sought an answer from Arjun Singh.

This came even as a declassified CIA document, dated December 8, 1984, indicated the role of the government of India in the release of Anderson a day earlier.

With Indian national elections just over two weeks away, both state and Central government politicians are trying to deflect blame from themselves to the subsidiary and to wring compensation from its parent company. The Central governments quick release of the Union Carbide chairman from house arrest yesterday, however, suggests that New Delhi believes state officials were overly eager to score political points against the company, stated the declassified document.

PC Alexander, former principal secretary to Rajiv Gandhi, said: I do not know what happened. I learnt about it later. But the decision to release him (Anderson) could not have been taken without the Prime Minister or the state chief minister knowing. But I am not aware who initiated the decision. Andersons name never came up when the Cabinet Committee on Political Affairs (CCPA) met at 3 am on December 9 to discuss the Bhopal gas leak. Arjun Singh had been invited to that meeting. There were two parts of the discussion at the CCPA meetingthe first was about a second tank since Bhopal was full of rumours that this was about to explode; the second was whether there should be evacuation of citizens.

Chemical expert Varadarajan presented his views at the CCPA meeting stating that there was no need to tamper with the second tank and they will go and observe the symptoms. Evacuation could have been very difficult and there was also this issue of burial of those who had died, including Muslims, said Alexander.

But Congress spokesperson Jayanthi Natarajan, responding to a volley of questions on the role of the then Rajiv Gandhi government in the release of Anderson, said: I categorically deny any involvement of the Central government.

Asked about party general secretary Digvijay Singhs remarks on Thursday that the decision to release Anderson could have been taken under American pressure, which suggested that the Rajiv Gandhi government had a role, Natarajan said, There is no question of Rajiv Gandhi government being implicated. Digvijay Singh has explained his own statement. The question of Rajiv Gandhi governments involvement does not arise. Whatever facts that need to be further examined will be examined by the Group of Ministers constituted by the government.

In a damage-control exercise, Digvijay Singh said that he was unaware of the developments at that time as he had resigned as Minister from the Madhya Pradesh government and was campaigning for Lok Sabha polls.

In the statement itself, I had clarified that I was campaigning and really dont know the events which led to the bail and release of Mr Anderson, Singh said, adding that people who can answer this are Arjun Singhji, the then CM as also Brahm Swaroop, the then Chief Secretary of Madhya Pradesh, Moti Singh, the then Collector of Bhopal, and Swaraj Puri, the then SP of Bhopal.

He said Rajiv Gandhi had left his campaign and visited Bhopal immediately, visiting the affected areas and meeting the families of affected persons. RK Dhawan said Arjun Singh was the only person who can answer how Anderson left the country. The senior Congress leader said he did not believe that Rajiv Gandhi would have known about the developments or asked Arjun Singh to provide the aircraft to Anderson which flew him out of Bhopal.