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Heat and gas

columns Updated: Jun 19, 2010 23:13 IST
Indrajit Hazra
Indrajit Hazra
Hindustan Times
Indrajit Hazra

I need a hair cut. The Delhi heat must be getting to me. How else can I explain my peculiar behaviour over the last three days: driving to Ashoka Road every morning before going to work, going past the All India Congress Committee office on 7 Ashoka Road, and then stopping the car just outside 17 Ashoka Road for some 15 minutes while the car stereo plays the Stokes’ song ‘Heart in a cage’ three times in a loop.

On Friday when I went out to pursue my latest pre-midlife crisis hobby, I saw a TV crew of four young people sitting on the kerb directly outside the closed gates of 17 Ashoka Road. It was clear that they were bored and that like me — but with a much more tangible purpose — this group was also coming every day and hanging out outside this sprawling central Delhi bungalow. They either hoped to be let in by the hidden-from-view guards inside the gate, or catch the main resident of No. 17 taking a chukker out of the bungalow walls in a white Ambassador with a red light. In the three days of quarter-hour installments that I was outside the house of Congressman and former Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Arjun Singh, I saw only one police vehicle come out of the gate.

Since public interest in the Bhopal gas tragedy and in former Union Carbide Chairman Warren Anderson’s ‘safe passage’ has been resuscitated after the recent court verdict, I have been eager to take a look at, if not actually meet, Arjun Singh.

My purpose is neither journalistic nor activistic. I just want to see the man who, as CM of Madhya Pradesh in the aftermath of the December 2-3, 1984 ‘accident’, retained a disposition befitting a Rewa Rajput running off to his ancestral Kerwa Dam palace when death comes to town. Not many people can do that without being at least tagged as an incompetent administrator guilty of dereliction of duty.

If Finance Minister and fellow Congress veteran Pranab Mukherjee is to be believed, Anderson, charged with manslaughter, was chaperoned out of India after being arrested and released on bail by the Madhya Pradesh Police in Bhopal on December 7, 1984. Last week, Mukherjee said that “it is very clear from the statement of Arjun Singh, which was published in The Times of India on December 8, 1984, that the law and order situation in Bhopal would have deteriorated and people’s frenzy and temper were running high. Therefore, it was thought necessary to send him [Anderson] out of Bhopal.” The fact that “out of Bhopal” had to be as far away as Long Island, New York, is, I guess, understandable considering the long arm of the methyl-isocyanated mob.

Of course, highlighting only Anderson or Arjun Singh in the whole tawdry affair of post-Bhopal dealings of the Eveready-charged Government of India is missing the wood for the whole darn furniture, considering that ‘proper’ compensations are yet to be doled out and still-existing toxins in Bhopal are yet to be removed. But let’s not make a fetish of the forest-like ‘no-individuals-please’ system either.

It could be just sheer coincidence that just when the nation (including a few of us staking out outside 17 Akbar Road) wants the ruling party — which was also the ruling party both in Bhopal and at the Centre the day Anderson was tucked into a blue ambassador with a red light on it, providing the first leg of a remarkably short journey that would take him “out of Bhopal” — to shed some light on Anderson’s ‘safe passage’, the reconstituted Group of Ministers on Bhopal has reportedly backed the hike in compensation for gas victims and will be finalising its report tomorrow.

But it could be no coincidence also.

Since some dead men out of favour have the lovely quality of not being able to speak, I bet my two Indane gas cylinders that Anderson’s ‘safe passage’ will be kitted out as a decision taken by the then Congress Home Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao with the still wet-behind-the-ears PM Rajiv Gandhi not smelling a whiff of this Government of India decision at all.

Arjun Singh told this paper this week he has “no locus standi” on the Bhopal issue. I'll keep locus sitting in my car outside his house from time to time anyway. Told you I need a hair cut.