Jun 17, 2010

Obama leads from the front; Manmohan ducks for cover

US President Obama

Yesterday, US President Obama addressed the nation from his Oval office. Bloomberg reports: "As devastation from the worst U.S. oil spill mounts, President Barack Obama vowed that BP Plc will pay for all damage caused by its “recklessness” and that the government would commit to restoring the Gulf Coast."

"We will fight this spill with everything we’ve got,” Obama said. “We will make BP pay for the damage their company has caused. And we will do whatever’s necessary to help the Gulf Coast and its people recover from this tragedy.”

Sitting in front of the TV in New Delhi, and watching a programme on whether the US follows double standards, my thoughts wander to President Obama's speech before the nation. I think Americans are so damn lucky. They have a President (not that I agree with his policies, he is taking the country on a downhill path)) who at least at the time of a calamity and a national disaster stands up and leads from the front, and shows that he is accountable to the people. Obama has clearly demonstrated that he is the American President, and will not allow British Petroleum to get away with murder.

Back home, we have Dr Manmohan Singh as our Prime Minister. Ever since the Bhopal gas verdict came, he has been literally hiding. The media, business and industry as well as the intellectuals have thrown a protective ring around him. Unable to face the nation, his party is fielding Jayanti Natarajan and Manish Tiwari to go on the harangue. It is such a pain to see their faces, and probably what the Congress does not realise is that by fielding the two into the public arena they don't need the main Opposition party BJP to do it any more harm. By questioning the 'nationalist credentials' of those accusing late Rajiv Gandhi of being responsible for letting Anderson leave the country, Manish Tiwari has in a way already acknowledged that Rajiv Gandhi was in fact the person who let the culprit escape. 

Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh

I thought the day Bhopal verdict came, Manmohan Singh should have stood up and addressed the nation. He too could have assured the people that he will leave no stone upturned to bring the guilty, including the corporates involved, to pay for their misdeeds. Like Obama, he too could have assured the nation that he would ensure that Union Carbide/Dow Chemicals/Eveready pay for the human lives lost, maimed and also for the toxic clean-up.

It requires a courage of conviction to stand up and be counted.

Obama's thunder has made BP cough out $ 20 billion. Manmohan Singh on the other hand will ensure that you and me end up paying for the toxic clean up, and also for adequately compensating the victims. Wait and watch for the report of the GoM headed by a Minister who himself stands indicted. The GoM proposals would be worse than what even Ratan Tata had suggested in order to bail out Dow Chemicals.

When Dow Chemical bought Union Carbide, it set aside $ 2.2 billion to cover potential liabilities arising from Union Carbide's American asbestos production at its plant in West Virginia, but clearly stated that it had nothing to do with the Bhopal plant (Sunday Guardian, June 13, 2010). You can understand why Ratan Tata (his name should also figure in The Hall of Shame) was keen to absolve Dow Chemicals of the responsibility for toxic clean up.

Manmohan Singh could have promised to also go in for a political clean up. He should have sacked by now P Chidambaram, Kamal Nath, and Montek Singh Ahluwalia for being party to the exemption that Dow Chemical wanted. He should have simultaneously launched an investigation into what went wrong, and that includes the faulty lines in the Indian judiciary, and at the same time taken all political parties into confidence to bring corporate accountability. People have the right to know the names of political leaders, bureaucrats, judges, and the business tycoons who betrayed the nation. Even if it includes former President Giani Zail Singh and the former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, so be it.

After all, Prime Minister is the head of the government. He can make the nation, and its judiciary, behave. He does not have the option of any excuses. He must deliver or be made to quit.

Obama is the American President, and he knows he is responsible for whatever happens within his country. He doesn't have to worry about British Petroleum. He knows he drives strength from his people. Manmohan Singh on the other hand is worried about the wrong signals his tough position will send to the foreign investors. "'Bhopal's will happen, but the country has to grow," is what he believes in. People therefore must learn to suffer silently.

Obama thinks otherwise. For him every American life counts. The American environment has to be preserved at every cost.

It is not the US which follows double standards. The fact is that India has no standards. Call it a 'systemic failure', the fact remains, as intrepid journalist Rajdeep Sardesai often reminds us: "is hamam main sab nange hain" (everyone is naked in this spa). Indians lack compassion, and are selfish to the core. Everyone, more so at the top, is trying to exploit the lesser children of the god. The more the bold and powerful you are, the more you are willing to slit the throat of others. Corporate India is doing it to the poor tribals. Manmohan Singh is only using State power to make that possible. 

What India Inc therefore needs is a danda. I wish Prime Minister Manmohan Singh knew how to be tough, how to use the broom, and how to stand up for his people. This was an opportunity for him to make his mark in history. He missed it, and so did India.

Let us wait for the day when someone much more taller emerges to lead India. We desperately need a Prime Minister who represents India and not India Inc. 


Before you go, I want you to read these two articles:
Let down by mai-baap by Aman Hingorani
The law empowering the Indian government to represent Bhopal's gas victims was unconstitutional. In effect, two guilty parties negotiated with each other. 

Games Big Corporations Play by P Sainath
Bhopal marked the horrific beginning of a new era. One that signalled the collapse of restraint on corporate power.

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