New Delhi: The ruling Congress may be using former Madhya Pradesh chief minister Arjun Singh, ailing and no longer in active politics, as a lightning rod to deflect criticism over the handling of the 1984 Bhopal gas leak.
The party was in power both at the Centre and in the state when the accident occurred 26 years ago. Singh was chief minister at the time.
Without naming the politician, the Congress on Thursday maintained that all questions raised regarding former Union Carbide Corp. chief executive Warren Anderson’s hasty departure from India at the time need to be answered.
“The party has always maintained that all questions that are raised in any such situation must be answered properly and responsibility should be fixed,” said Congress general secretary Janardhan Dwivedi. “The same norm applies to this case also.”
The Congress has been facing criticism for failing to deliver justice to the victims and for letting Anderson leave the country. Privately, Congress leaders say Arjun Singh ordered Anderson’s release and allowed him to leave the country. However, senior leaders refused to divulge who had given him the instructions from New Delhi.
“Let him (Arjun Singh) answer that question. Let him come out with the facts,” a senior party leader said on condition of anonymity.
Satyavrat Chaturvedi, member of Parliament and member of the Congress working committee, the apex decision making body of the party, has raised questions about the circumstances leading to the release of Anderson hours after his arrest in Bhopal on 7 December 1984.
“If Anderson is really the prime accused in the case, someone will have to answer why he was set free in the first place,” he said.
Congress party leaders have been voicing disparate views after a court in Madhya Pradesh convicted eight people for India’s worst industrial disaster to two years in jail.
Senior Congress leader and general secretary Digvijay Singh told NDTV news channel that it could have been the US pressure that led to the exit of Anderson from the country. Singh was a minister in the Arjun Singh-led Madhya Pradesh government in 1984.
Earlier, the then district collector of Bhopal, Moti Singh, told the media that he was asked by the state’s chief secretary to take Anderson to the airport. Television channels have been showing footage of Anderson being driven to New Delhi airport from where he flew to the US and never returned to face charges.
Former union minister Vasant Sathe alleged there was a collusion between the Madhya Pradesh government and “some people” at the Centre, PTI reported.
“I cannot guess the names of the people. The collector (Moti Singh) says he got orders from the chief secretary. Arjun Singh-ji knows all the facts,” he told the news agency.
PTI contributed to this story.