It is odd that the government should have chosen law and order as its final alibi after some exhausting self-laceration in its search for a credible explanation for the escape of Union Carbideâ€™s Warren Anderson on December 7, 1984.
Why do we say â€œlaw and orderâ€ rather than â€œorder and lawâ€? Simple. Law comes before order. Law defines the nature of order. Law is the difference between civilization and chaos. Law is evolutionary: the edicts of tribes, chiefs and dynasties lifted human societies from scattered peril to structured coexistence. The laws of democracy have vaulted us to the acme of social cohesion, for they eliminated arbitrary diktat and introduced collective will. The divine right of kings is dead; it has been reborn as the secular right of an elected Parliament.
A nation that cannot uphold its law cannot preserve its order. When Anderson was smuggled out to safety, the authority of state abandoned the responsibility of state. Excuses, evasions and lies have shifted over 26 years; this central truth has not.
Unsurprisingly, Anderson sneered at the establishment that knelt before him; contempt is the umbilical chord of the colonial, or neo-colonial, relationship. The crux of the Bhopal tragedy is summed up in a few sentences uttered by Anderson as he was escorted out of India on December 7, 1984: â€œHouse arrest or no house arrest, or bail or no bail, I am free to go homeâ€¦There is a law of the United Statesâ€¦ India, bye bye, thank you.â€
â€˜House or no house arrestâ€™: he could not care a damn about those funny-looking policemen (in lathis and khaki shorts?) who had dared to arrest a pillar of the American corporate establishment. â€˜Bail or no bailâ€™: what was a rotten piece of paper signed in an Indian court worth to a lord of Wall Street? Not even the decency of silence. Anderson was publicly, even proudly, contemptuous of those who did not have the courage to interrupt his freedom for a mere industrial disaster in which a few thousand semi-slave Indians had been gassed to death within hours and thousands more would die over years.
â€˜There is a law in the United Statesâ€™: Anderson had twigged on to a basic truth that the law is a malleable reality for those who are â€œwell-connectedâ€ in India. How could Anderson have respect for Indiaâ€™s law when those entrusted with its sanctity had defiled it? Anderson laughed at Indian law, and jeered at the Indian state. Compare this with the fact that his company was scared witless at the prospect of an American trial. Carbide fought hard, and successfully, with predictable help from a comprador Indian establishment, to shift the trial from America to India. Their subsequent collusion with Indian courts touched Supreme heights.
British Petroleum knew the perils of entanglement with American justice and shelled out within six weeks of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. Big Oil (which is far bigger than Big Chemical) has been forced to put aside $20 billion for the repair of the environment after an ecological disaster that has not killed a single innocent human being. Technically, BP need not have paid more than $75 million. The first demand on Carbide, 26 years ago was for $15 billion. It has paid the equivalent of just one billion dollars (at todayâ€™s prices) for the death of nearly 20,000 people and the horrific maiming of over 100,000.
Barack Obama slipped on a bit of oil himself when the spill began. He thought playing to the gallery would subdue the clamour, while BP contained the damage. He upped the ante (it became an environmental 9/11) even while his National Guard helped BP by hiding affected bird-life from media cameras. Obama began to taunt the British in British Petroleum, perhaps because he found it easier to attack a nation than a multinational; but public opinion was not to be mollified by rhetoric.
BP paid America out of fear, not because of a demand order from its conscience. Carbide had nothing to fear, and never possessed a conscience. QED. BP will not pay a dividend this year. Carbide paid a dividend even after Bhopal.
â€˜India, bye bye, thank youâ€™: those famous last Anderson words. Bye bye; this is a divorce, not a separation. There might be some alimony in it, but donâ€™t start shopping until the cheque is in the bank.
Accusation is the easy exit route from Bhopal. Introspection will take us back to the beginning. Betrayal is impossible without trust. We did not trust Carbide to be honest. We trusted our political class, and it continues to search for new and inventive ways to betray us again.