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Cong in tizzy as Bhopal row rages
Core panel meets; party denies former PM’s hand in Anderson’s release
Anita Katyal
Our Political Correspondent

New Delhi, June 11
The Congress core group, chaired by party president Sonia Gandhi, met here today as the swirling controversy over the 26-year-old Bhopal gas tragedy moved dangerously close to implicating late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi for ordering the release of former Union Carbide chief Warren Anderson after having been charged with culpable homicide not amounting to murder.

After an hour-long discussion, the core group decided that it should leave it to the UPA Government, which has already constituted a group of ministers (GOM) on this subject, to respond to the questions being raised about the handling of the case. It also decided to counter the Opposition attack by putting the BJP in the dock for not making any efforts to extradite Anderson when it was in power.

Besides Sonia Gandhi, the core group’s members include Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, Defence Minister AK Antony, Home Minister P. Chidambaram and the Congress president’s political secretary Ahmed Patel.

Though the Congress was quick to go into damage control mode today — its spokesperson Jayanti Natarajan denied the role of the Rajiv Gandhi government in Anderson’s release — the party is worried over the adverse political ramifications of the fresh revelations being unearthed by the media.

Although there is a view in the Congress that this controversy will gradually subside, there is also a nagging fear that it could damage the party and the UPA Government if it is not countered politically.

Pushed on the back foot, the Congress had attempted to put the blame on senior leader Arjun Singh, who was the Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister when the world’s worst industrial disaster struck the state, but to little avail as the focus has now shifted to Rajiv Gandhi’s role in this episode. In fact, a televison channel even quoted declassified CIA documents stating that Anderson was released on the Central government’s orders to Madhya Pradesh.

The Congress today stated categorically that “there was no question of the Rajiv Gandhi being implicated in Anderson’s release” and instead put the onus on the UPA Government to respond to all the queries which are being raised about the handling of the Bhopal case.

“Whatever facts need to be further examined will be undertaken by the Group of Ministers set up by the government,” Jayanti Natarajan said, adding that all facts need to be brought out. The party’s defence of Rajiv Gandhi was supported by former Prime Minister’s special assistant, RK Dhawan, who told a television news channel that the Centre didn’t put any pressure on the Madhya Pradesh government.

“I was Rajiv Gandhi’s special assistant, and handled all calls. Rajiv Gandhi never called anyone or received any call,” he asserted, adding that Arjun Singh should speak out and clarify matters. The man in the eye of the storm — Arjun Singh — is not saying much though he did deny these reports yesterday in a brief interaction with a UP-based journalist. Despite its display of bravado, the Congress is nervous that if the wily Thakur from Madhya Pradesh is pushed into a corner, he might disclose embarrassing details about the carbide case. In fact, AICC general secretary Digvijay Singh’s statement yesterday — in which he defended the Madhya Pradesh government — is being viewed by some Congress leaders as a counter to the official party line to ensure that Arjun Singh is not totally isolated.

CBI failed to act on warrant in 2009

Bhopal: The trial court in the Bhopal gas tragedy case had issued an arrest warrant against Warren Anderson last year but the CBI had failed to give any written response to it, according to court sources. They said the warrant, the second against Anderson, was issued by Chief Judicial Magistrate Mohan P Tiwari on July 2, 2009 but the CBI did not give any written response to it. Instead, they said, a CBI official met Tiwari and orally conveyed to him that for the agency, Anderson’s case had been closed. The first court warrant against Anderson was issued in 1992.





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