Bhopal Gas Leak survivors have particular reason to remember Motilal Vora

Vora, who had genuine concern for Bhopal Gas Leak survivors not only help started hundreds of stitching centers, but worked on centrally funded projects for economic rehabilitation of the survivors. The most important of these was a “special industrial area” which envisaged setting up of small and medium scale industrial units over a 21-hectare piece of land

Motilal Vora who died on December 21, a day after he had turned 93, had a humanitarian quality not so common among the political class. Survivors of the 1984 Bhopal Gas Leak Disaster have a particular reason to remember him. According to the late Abdul Jabbar, Convener of Bhopal Gas Peedith Mahila Udyog Sangathan (BGPMUS), Vora, as Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, had shown a genuine concern for the gas-affected people; he would go to their dingy places to see their conditions for himself, sometimes in bad weather, and talk to them about their problems and needs. No other Chief Minister had done that. In fact, those who succeeded him as Chief Minister undid what Vora had done or wanted to do to lessen the suffering of the survivors.

Jabbar, for instance, gave credit to Vora for starting the stitching centres for providing employment to the gas affected women. Over 3000 women, incapable of doing any hard work, were happily engaged in this remunerative activity, forgetting their handicap. Quite congenial atmosphere prevailed in those stitching centres. However, the dismantling of the project started when Sunderlal Patwa of BJP became Chief Minister in 1990 and the process of winding up was completed by Digvijaya Singh’s Congress government which took office in 1993.

Through Vora’s efforts, some Centrally funded projects for economic rehabilitation of the gas disaster survivors were started during his period. The most important of these was a “special industrial area” which envisaged setting up of small and medium scale industrial units over a 21-hectare piece of land. The industrialists were to be invited for setting up their units, which would not require heavy labour. The electronics industry and the diamond cutting industry were identified, to begin with, as suited to the requirement. It was announced at the time that 10,000 gas-affected persons would get direct employment in the units to be started in the first phase. Even construction work had started. But his successor Sunderlal Patwa abandoned the project and allotted the sheds, already constructed, to the Central paramilitary forces for housing their units.

Starting from humble beginnings, Vora was handpicked by Indira Gandhi for replacement of Ramgopal Tiwari as the PCC chief on the eve of the 1985 Assembly elections. Rajiv Gandhi, who succeeded his mother after the latter’s’ assassination, was so much impressed by Vora’s hard work during the elections that Vora became a natural choice for the Chief Ministership after Arjun Singh was shifted to Punjab as Governor within 24 hours of his having been sworn in. Arjun Singh, who had opposed the party ticket to Vora in 1980, had not only included Vora into his cabinet but had also to accept him as the Chief Minister in 1985.

Vora, however, did not have the requisite support in the party and could never really come to his own. He had to tread cautiously, as a bureaucrat who had worked with him remarked. Vora’s pious intentions and his lack of confidence were illustrated by two incidents. One related to Bharat Bhavan. Arjun Singh had made himself and his cronies’ life trustees of this multi-arts complex. Vora did not think it was good in a democratic set-up. He made the noting in the file to the effect that the structure of Bharat Bhavan should be changed. But he himself failed to act. (The structure was later changed by Sunderlal Patwa).

The second relates to his second term when he had replaced Arjun Singh who was forced to step down following adverse remarks against him in the High Court judgement on the Churhat lottery scam. Vora included in the terms of reference of the proposed Commission of Inquiry the construction of (Arjun Singh’s) Kerva mansion also. Later on he withdrew that part of notification, but leaving sufficient evidence in the files about his real intentions.

A journalist, who had seen Vora’s political career from close quarters, was impressed by Vora’s concern for the underprivileged. He once accompanied Vora and some high officials on the eight-seater State plane to Shahdol. Looking at the condition of the airstrip there, the pilot declared that the plane would be able to take off with not more than four passengers. Vora himself made the selection and one of the passengers on the plane was a peon while the senior civil and police officers were asked to make their own arrangement for return to Bhopal.

N D Sharma

is a senior journalist, and Patron of eNewsroom India.

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