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Shambolic, symbolic

The symbolism of taking on Dow Chemicals and ‘winning’ must be as thrilling as it is pointless.

india Updated: Dec 20, 2011 00:35 IST

Everyone appreciates symbolic gestures. We love them too. And given the fact that part of our job is to interpret and analyse them, we could be called professional symbolists. But sometimes, such gestures become a show of crass opportunism and decoding them becomes a chore. Our latest act of semiotic-reading has been the very symbolic gestures made by Indian Olympic Association (IOA) president VK Malhotra.

Under pressure from the victims of the 1984 Bhopal Gas disaster, Mr Malhotra shot off a letter to the organisers of the 2012 London Olympics to ban Dow Chemicals, the company that took over Union Carbide in 2001 and which was supposed to sponsor a decorative wrap over the Olympic Stadium in the British capital during the opening ceremony of the Games next year. Dow has now agreed to remove its logo from the stadium. Even though the company wasn’t directly responsible for the horrors of Union Carbide, the pressure to disassociate itself from a worldwide event of repute like the Olympics made Dow back off. But what does such backing off amount to? In our book, the IOA’s protest is even less than cosmetic. Okay, so it did push Dow to step back.

And then? When it comes to Bhopal, such a ‘moral’ victory is as preci-ous as winning a gold medal in a race of one. As for Mr Malhotra, he’s now demanding more ‘concessions’ from the Olympic organisers. The Bhopal issue boiled down to haggling isn’t a pretty sight. Our question to Mr Malhotra: Why can’t you push your party, the BJP, never mind the government, to take up the more tangible iss-ue of victim compensation that is yet to be resolved 27 years after the disaster? Or push the BJP-led government in Madhya Pradesh to give in to the demand for constituting a special court for the speedy disposal of a criminal trials pending in a Bhopal court?

That, alas, looks drab as a symbol of standing up to injustice. And what’s the point in taking up the cudgels for the victims and their families on a small but realistic scale when rattling a kitchen knife before a multi-national grabs the headline?