Thirty-one years ago around 4,000 people lost their lives on the intervening night of December 2 and 3 from a gas leak at the Union Carbide factory in Bhopal. That is just the official estimate; other accounts put it close to 15,000.
By all accounts, the Methyl Isocyanate gas, more poisonous than cyanide, left around 5 lakh people crippled for life and infected them with illnesses such as lung cancer, kidney failure and liver diseases – which killed them slowly.
Those catastrophic two days continue to haunt and hinder the regular lives of Bhopal’s residents to this day.
Justice has eluded them for most part of the 31 years, in spite of both civil and criminal cases filed against the prime accused Union Carbide Corporation and its then CEO Warren Anderson.
Anderson, who died on September 29, 2014, was arrested when he landed in India but was allowed to fly out. He was subsequently declared a fugitive but in spite of India’s request for his extradition, the US refused.
But speaking on Bhopal Gas Tragedy during the monsoon session of the Parliament this year, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj pointed out how then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi helped Anderson escape from the legal net.
She was not making wild allegations; she had strong evidence in the form of late Congress leader Arjun Singh’s autobiography ‘A Grain of Sand in the Hourglass of Time’, where he clearly mentions how then PM traded Anderson’s release in exchange for the release of a convicted friend.
The convicted friend was Adil Shahryar – son of Muhammad Yunus, Nehru’s close aide.
Shahryar was arrested in August 1981 by US authorities and was serving a 35-year sentence in a number of fraud cases and for setting ablaze a hotel room.
He was granted clemency on June 11, 1985, just a few months after Anderson’s escape and on the day Rajiv Gandhi landed in US.
In the book, Singh had written that Rajiv Gandhi had ordered him to make arrangements for the safe return of Anderson to the US.
This August 1982 letter was written to the then US attorney general William French Smith on behalf of Muhammed Yunus referring to a previous letter by Hollywood actor Charlton Heston – a friend of Yunus.
Smith wrote a letter back to Heston stating his inability to do anything in the case.
Netaji historian Anuj Dhar draws our attention as to why Gandhi allowed Anderson to go. He writes that Muhammad Yunus was a close confidante of Nehru and knew details about the Bose case.
Paraphrasing Subhas Chandra Bose’s nephew, the late Pradip Bose, Dhar says that Yunus threatened Rajiv with exposing Nehru in the Netaji matter if he did not help him in the release of his son.
Eventually, politics of the day and that which continued for three decades pushed the victims of Bhopal beyond the veil of obscurity.