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Ex-Olympian Aslam Sher writes to Sonia on Dow Chemical sponsorship of London Olympics

By Pervez Bari, TwoCircles.net,

Bhopal: Former hockey Olympian turned politician Aslam Sher Khan, an ex-Lok Sabha Congress member, has written a letter to Mrs. Sonia Gandhi, president of All India Congress Committee and chairperson of the ruling United Progressive Alliance, (UPA), Government at the Centre, appealing her not to overlook the issue of Dow Chemical, the parent company of Union Carbide which was responsible for the Bhopal Gas Tragedy, world’s worst industrial catastrophe, in December 1984, which is amongst the sponsors of the London 2012 Olympic Games, and give it due consideration.

Addressing a Press conference here on Monday Aslam Sher said that Dow Chemical by offering £7 million sponsorship to London Olympics organisers wants to wash away the killer tag through the medium of sports and Olympics appears to be the best venture for it to do so.

Aslam Sher Khan

Aslam Sher in his letter dated November 24, 2011 to Mrs. Gandhi, the copy of which has also been send to all the members of the Congress Working Committee, said: “We are the ruling party in this country having 207 MPs in the Lok Sabha and thus the least we can do is to put pressure on the IOA (Indian Olympic Association) to lodge an official protest with the LOCOG (London Organising Committee of Olympic Games), over Dow’s sponsorship link with the London 2012 Olympics. It would be highly insensitive of the government to remain a mute spectator when MPs from foreign country are showing greater concern regarding justice for the people of Bhopal”.

The former Olympian revealed that a cross-party group of 24 MPs of UK Parliament have taken up the initiative and voiced a strong protest against the unethical deal between Dow Chemical and LOCOG. They have taken the initiative in the form of campaign which seeks the cancellation of the sponsorship deal.

Aslam Sher said: “I have written to some of these MPs which include Mr. Barry Gardiner, Mr. Keith Vaz and Ms. Tessa Jowell offering my support to their campaign. It is commendable that these MPs are showing great concern for the sentiments of the people of Bhopal and millions of Indians settled in UK. I have received a reply from Mr. Vaz who is keen to know whether I have received any response to my efforts”.

He wondered if UK MPs can take up the issue of Dow Chemical’s sponsorship of London Olympics then why can’t the Members of Parliament in India do the same. “Kya In LogoN Ne ChoodiyaN Pahan Rakhi HaiN?” (Are these Indian MPs wearing bangles?)”, he remarked. It is the moral duty of these Indian MPs to mitigate the sufferings of the Bhopal gas disaster victims and survivors and support them in their fight of adequate compensation from Dow Chemical than that of their counterparts thousands of miles away, he opined. “Has India become a banana Republic?”, he asked.

Replying to a question Aslam Sher said if need arises he would not hesitate to don the role of Anna Hazare (known for Fight Against Corruption) in getting proper justice to the victims and survivors to their satisfaction which is a long drawn battle and has to be taken to its logical end. The battle has to be above party line and not Congress alone wherein all the political parties should chip in their efforts for the welfare of the victims and survivors, he added.

When asked what would be the line of action to realize his goal he said that small public meetings would be organized all over Bhopal where tragedy struck to make people realise their rightful claims and build pressure on the governments to take up their cases on priority basis as they have been languishing for the last 27 years.

“When the country is coming under pressure to take corrective course in the face of Anna’s movement then pressure will have also to be built for the Bhopal’s case. Why not the whole issue of the victims of Bhopal Gas Tragedy was reviewed and a clause added in the Nuclear deal with the US in the backdrop of the Bhopal disaster”, he asked.

If the Indian government takes up the issue in right earnest and decides to boycott the London Olympics in face of the Dow Chemical refusing to compensate adequately then the company will have to come to the negotiation table and pay through its nose to the victims and survivors, he maintained.

Aslam Sher said that if all this cannot force the London Olympics organising body to remove Dow from sponsoring the Olympics, the five and a half million gas victims and survivors will come out on roads to protest. “If needed, we will sit on indefinite fast donning the role of Anna Hazare to press the Indian government to register a protest”, he added.

He informed that he would take up the Bhopal victims issue in a big way at the former Olympians meeting to be held at New Delhi under the aegis of IOA on December 15.

Replying to a questioner he condemned the incidents of December 3 this year on the 27th anniversary without mincing any words against police atrocities on Bhopal gas victims. “Bhopal Ki Janata Ne Saabit Kardiya Hai Ke Gas Tragedy issue Abhi Bhi Zinda Hai”.

It may be pointed here that Bhopal Gas Tragedy survivors have been fighting for adequate compensation and proper rehabilitation for the last more than two-and-a-half decades. The victims and survivors resorted to “Rail Roko” (Train Blockade) on December 3 last on the occasion of 27th anniversary of the disaster to draw world’s attention, especially the Union and Madhya Pradesh state governments, towards their plight of misery and pain over the years with none to come to their rescue except lip service.

The peaceful “Rail Roko” protest by tens of thousands erupted into violence after police brutally resorted to cane-charge, tear-gassing and air-fire to clear the rail tracks to resume traffic on New Delhi-Chennai and New Delhi-Mumbai route. Infuriated gas victims, especially the youth, to vent ire indulged in stone-pelting and arson wherein several people including police and district officials were injured. About a dozen vehicles were torched.

Meanwhile, Aslam Sher on August 15, 2011 had a written a letter on the Bhopal issue to the Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh bringing his concerns to his (PM’s) notice and appealed to him that this matter was of national interest for India and, therefore, the Government of India through the IOA must raise its objections with the LOCOG. And, if the LOCOG refuses to cooperate then India should not hesitate from boycotting the London 2012 Olympic Games. The copy of the letter was also send to Union Sports Minister and the president of IOA.

It may be recalled here that 40 tones of methyl isocyanate, (MIC – a highly volatile toxic chemical), gas spewed from the pesticide plant – owned by Union Carbide India Limited, (UCIL), a subsidiary of Union Carbide Corporation (UCC), USA – in the intervening night of December 2-3, 1984. The gas leak killed 3,000 people instantly and more than 25,000 over the years and inflicting grievous injuries on countless others. Many were deformed for life and many children born with the toxic effect are sick and with congenital malformations. It also affected 100,000 people that night and estimates are that more than 500,000 continue to suffer till date.

Meanwhile, it may be mentioned here that Aslam Sher Khan, who was born on July 15, 1953, helped the Indian Hockey team to win the Gold Medal in the 1975 World Cup held at Kuala Lumpur by scoring the winning goal. He as a member of the Indian team also participated in Munich Olympics held in 1972. He played hockey as a full back. He authored an autobiography titled “To Hell with Hockey”. ([email protected])