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Rajiv Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi & Bhopal Disaster

Written By Gopal Krishna on Friday, December 04, 2009 | 3:07 AM

“I still remember the day when my father (late Rajiv Gandhi - then prime minister) returned from Bhopal after the tragedy. I was not alone to be pained by the suffering of the people of Bhopal but the entire nation, including my family, was distressed”. Rahul Gandhi, Congress general secretary on the world's worst industrial disaster, Novemeber 25, 2009 during his 10-minute speech, a couple of minutes before the deadline for election campaigning in Madhya Pradesh.

Notably, the late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi himself had made a brief appearance at the Hamidia Hospital in Bhopal after the disaster and stayed just long enough to be photographed before dashing off to resume his election campaign in December 1984.

Rajiv Gandhi had termed the incident "horrifying," announced the creation of a $400,000 Government relief fund and Central Bureau of Investigation while traveling in southern India for the general election campaign, said that "everything possible will be done to provide relief to the sufferers," and added, "Such mishaps must never be allowed to recur."

Coincidentally, the Bhopal plant was opened in 1977 and produces about 2,500 tons of pesticides based on methyl isocyanate annually. In 1978, six people were reported killed when they were exposed to phosgene gas, another lethal mixture produced in the plant.

If the one were to read what the editorial of the Economic and Political wrote in its November 18, 1989 issue, it would appear that its a commentary on the state of affairs in the present time. It reads: "More curious and more disheartening is however the absence of environmental issues. In the five years since the last election, and incidentally since the Bhopal disaster, awarenessabout them has grown tremendously, covering a gamut of stand points from a Gandhian rejection of all large-scale industrialisation to a demand for a propermix for development. Besides, the Narmada project has become a major focus for the movement. And yet none of the parties has made much of a mention of environmental issues. Although at various points opposition parties have been vocal in their criticism of the goverment's handling of issues such as the Bhopal disaster, they clearly don't regard environmental degradation, whether it be because of dams or industrial disasters, as serious enough an issue to warrant a mention in their party programmes. On the other hand, this silence in the manifestos makes it possible for the parties to choose their stands as per local needs: every single party has in Gujarat wholeheartedly supported the Narmada project ignoring the environmental concerns that it has raised, whereas in a constituency such as Karwar, facing a candidate such as Shivram Karanth who has been so prominent in the anti-Kaiga nuclear plant movement, they will no doubt put forward more conciliatory arguments."

The tragedies from Bhopal to the recent accident in Kaiga illustrate that as a nation, our governments and political parties refuse to learn from disasters of all ilk.
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