The war of words over foreign minister Sushma Swaraj’s role in helping alleged absconder Lalit Modi took an unexpected turn when the BJP attacked the Congress over its role in letting the main accused of the 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy escape.
Not amused by the ruling party’s callousness, the non-governmental organisations (NGOs) working for the gas tragedy victims have seized the opportunity to go after the government for its laxity in delivering justice.
The BJP said Swaraj acted on ‘humanitarian’ grounds to help Lalit Modi see his ailing wife, while the Congress has maintained that she acted against national interests when she helped a wanted criminal.
The NGOs, often targeted by the government, now have enough fodder to call out the government on its hypocrisy and resistance to pursue the cause of the victims of the Bhopal gas tragedy.
Taking a pot shot at the foreign minister’s ‘humanitarian gesture,’ Rachna Dhingra of International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal wrote on her Facebook wall, “Never had this compassion or showed any humanitarian gesture in writing to US government in bringing Dow Chemical or UCC to face trial in India, which has killed 25,000 Bhopalis.”
She told HT, “In the past one year, when BJP-led NDA has been in power, Bhopal trial court issued three notices asking Dow Chemical to be present in the court but she never showed any inkling as foreign minister to get those notices served and honoured. Now they are raising the issue of Anderson’s safe passage. BJP was also in power for six years while Anderson was alive but they didn’t do anything either to get him extradited. She goes out of her way to help a fugitive get visa but does nothing to help gas victims despite knowing about all their issues.”
In a possible own goal for the Union government, the comment has dragged into the war of words the NGOs that have often been on the receiving end of travel restrictions imposed under the guise of preserving national interests.
Dhingra said it’s ironical that Swaraj helped a wanted criminal get his visa, while her and her husband Satinath Sarangi’s passports have been impounded by the Union government. “Have our passports been impounded because we raise the issue of gas victims?” she asked.
With pressure mounting from all sides, Swaraj, who represents MP’s Vidisha constituency, now appears to be stuck between a rock and hard place with the NGOs joining the bandwagon. Activists have seized the opportunity to pull-up the government, capitalising on the foreign minister’s current vulnerability.
Abdul Jabbar of Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Udyog Sangthan said though Swaraj was apprised of the issues facing the gas victims, the gross indifference of the CBI and the state government’s laxity in the matter, she never appeared to be moved.
“I met her twice with a delegation to apprise her of the issues of gas victims when she was leader of the Opposition in Lok Sabha. I also requested her to tell the chief minister that the state government should become a party in the Bhopal gas tragedy criminal case. I also talked to her personal assistant twice but there was no response. She showed no compassion towards the gas disaster victims,” he said.
Dhingra too said representatives of her group had met Swaraj before the BJP came to power to seek her help in raising the issues of the gas victims.
When asked why she didn’t meet her after she became the foreign minister, she said, “They don’t have time for us. Union chemical & fertiliser minister Ananth Kumar, who is in-charge of affairs relating to gas disaster, is not giving us time for five months.”