Warren Anderson’s Release: A riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma – B. S. Raghavan

Rajiv GandhiOh what a tangled web we weave,
When first we practise to deceive!
– Sir Walter Scott

Since everybody is on the job of unravelling the mystery behind the abrupt release of the Chairman, Mr Warren Anderson, of the Union Carbide, after first arresting him on arrival in Bhopal after the horrendous tragedy, why not I throw my hat in the ring? But first, in fairness, I must make a disclaimer and ask for caution.

What I am going to set out falls within the domain of deductive logic, heavily borrowing from the tell-tale technique of fictional heroes, Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot. The clues are all in favour of supporting the proposition that Rajiv Gandhi had a compelling reason to want to oblige the US Administration by releasing Warren Anderson.

I would not have ventured to come out with it unless I had thought it plausible after obtaining the honestly-expressed views of many friends with long experience of holding high responsibilities and eminent in their own spheres.

I simply narrate the happenings at the same period as when the gruesome catastrophe took place at Bhopal for you to mull over.

Mohammed YunusThe happenings

Now, to the happenings before and after the Bhopal tragedy insofar as it relates to Rajiv Gandhi. Adil Shahryar, the son of Muhammad Yunus, who was almost a part of the Indira Gandhi family, and a mentor of both Rajiv Gandhi and Sanjay Gandhi, was tried in a US District Court by a jury, and convicted on an indictment of five counts (including trying to blow up a ship, illegal possession of firearms and carrying them across State borders and drug trafficking) and sentenced in 1982 to 35 years hard labour in prison.

He appealed to the 11th Circuit US Court of Appeals which rejected the appeal on November 21, 1983 saying, “We find that the evidence presented at trial was sufficient to support the verdicts and therefore affirm the district court’s (judgment).”

PrisonerIt is not unreasonable to imagine what a shock this would have been to Yunus and how desperate he must have been to get his son released by using the influence of his highly placed friends. The fact of his leaving no stone unturned is evident from the fact that at one stage, the famous actor Charlton Heston (Ten Commandments, Benhur, The Bold and the Beautiful) got into the act to write to the US Attorney General (pdf), William F. Smith, asking him to intervene in the case. That he was sternly rebuffed (pdf) is another matter.

When Rajiv Gandhi became the Prime Minister, it is not far-fetched to believe that he must have come under relentless pressure from Yunus to make the release of Adil from US jail his topmost priority, even if it be by using his position and broaching the matter directly to President Ronald Reagan.

It was just at that time — December 3, 1984 — the Bhopal tragedy shook the world. If Rajiv Gandhi’s appeal to Reagan on Yunus’ behalf were to succeed, it was imperative to make a gesture that would somehow make President Reagan deal with Rajiv Gandhi’s request favourably.

Warren AndersonGood bargain

Hey, presto! Warren Anderson is given VIP treatment and allowed to fly out of the country on December 7, 1984 and Adil Shahriyar is granted presidential pardon “as a goodwill gesture” and “for reasons of state” on June 11, 1985.

It certainly was a good bargain to exchange a convict undergoing a 35-year sentence for heinous offences in the US for an American corporate honcho, in order to oblige a long-time family friend. – Business Line, 14 June  2010