With the wisdom of hindsight, investigators into the incidents of anthrax this month are citing the attack, allegedly organised by Bhagwan Rajneesh, later christened Osho by his followers, in Oregon in 1984.
A case study on the attack was undertaken by the highly respected Journal of the American Medical Association (Jama) in 1997. The attack in Oregon, now reconstructed by various sources, was targeted at voters in a small town where Osho was setting up base after he briefly abandoned his headquarters in Pune.
The small town, Dalles, tucked away in eastern Oregon’s desert landscape, was transformed between 1981 and 1986 by Osho who brought in 3,000 to 4,000 of his followers, built a 4,500-ft paved airstrip, a 44-acre reservoir, an 88,000-sq. ft. meeting hall and 90 of his 365 Rolls Royce cars. A ranch was bought by the Rajneesh Foundation International for $5.75 million and a further $120 million was spent on making it livable.
All these changes were met with stiff resistance from the local people, but learning from booth capturing experiences in Indian elections, Osho’s followers are said to have bought local votes. They renamed their town “Rajneeshpuram”.
Before one such crucial election to decide the town’s future, Osho’s followers launched a bio-terrorist attack on voters opposed to the presence of the Hindu cult in Dalles, according to Pulitzer prize-winning science writer for The New York Times, William Broad.
Broad has recounted details of Osho’s alleged germ attack on Dalles in the opening chapter of his authoritative book Germs: Biological Weapons And America’s Secret War, which he co-authored with two others.
Broad has said after this month’s incidence of anthrax that Osho’s followers “did this biological attack as a test whether they were able to sicken a lot of people, to knock them out on election day. They were going to pack the polls and get their candidates elected. It was successful. It wasn’t a lethal germ, but salmonella, a common food poisoning”.
Their tactic was to contaminate salad bars in 10 restaurants with salmonella just before election day. A total of 751 persons who ate at those salad bars were taken ill. But it was not until more than a year after the outbreak that sufficient evidence was accumulated to link the religious cult with the outbreak.
“This intentional outbreak of salmonella gastroenteritis may have occurred (17) years ago, but... the outbreak in Oregon represents a timely cause for concern,” wrote Annette Flanagin, senior editor of Jama.
With fear of anthrax sweeping the US, investigators now regret that the warning by the medical community’s voice was ignored. The issue of the medical journal, devoted to the use of biological agents as weapons was produced in association with Nobel Laureate and microbiologist Joshua Lederberg of Rockefeller University in New York.
Lederberg warned four years ago that although the incident studied by Jama was “small-scale... amateurish in design and ending with limited malefaction ... [they] touch on a set of timeliest concerns that unite national security and public health”.
In words which seem prophetic after today’s anthrax scare, Lederberg and Flanagin wrote: “It is hoped that wider dissemination today of the epidemiologic findings from the Dalles outbreak will lead to greater awareness of the possibility of other incidents and earlier recognition, when or if a similar incident occurs. This potential benefit should outweigh the risk of a copycat incident”.
When US attorney Charles Turner began investigating charges against Osho’s followers, members of the group allegedly conspired to murder him. Two persons were tried on the charge and sentenced to five years in prison in 1995 for conspiracy to commit murder.
Other followers who took part in the conspiracy were granted leniency for cooperating with the prosecution. Osho himself was convicted of immigration fraud and deported back to Pune a year after the germ attack in Dalles. A mysterious fire subsequently destroyed the huge house and indoor pool built by Osho.
In 1991, the ranch was purchased for $3.65 million by Dennis Washington, a Montana rancher who also owns the famous Anaconda Copper Mine.
But in Oregon, even today, rumours circulate about underground tunnels, toxic waste and still-hidden weapons stockpiles in the former Osho property.
However, in what has obviously been a calculated move by tournament executive director Ali Bacher, the ‘sensitive’ clash with Pakistan will be India’s last league engagement — on March 1.
The match, according to information available with The Telegraph, will be hosted by Supersport (Centurion) Park.
Though New Delhi is opposed to one-to-one exchanges with the Western neighbour, tournaments such as the quadrennial World Cup are an exception. In fact, despite the war in Kargil, New Delhi didn’t stop the team from playing Pakistan in the last World Cup (England, 1999).
Still, to the extent South Africa could, it has chosen to play safe. Sensibly, one may add.
After all, any off-the-pitch incident either before or during the match — specially if scheduled early in the tournament — could have far-reaching consequences.
The scenario changes when the match is in the second half.
The World Cup’s eighth edition, with an unprecedented 14 teams, begins on February 9 (Newlands, Cape Town) and will end on March 16 (Wanderers, Johannesburg). March 17 and 18 are reserve days for the final.
Besides India and Pakistan, the exceedingly tough pool A features world champions Australia, England, Zimbabwe, ICC Trophy holders Holland and runners-up Namibia.
Pool B has South Africa, the West Indies, Sri Lanka, New Zealand, Bangladesh, Kenya and Canada (third in the ICC Trophy).
The top three finishers in each pool qualify for the Super-Six stage, which precedes the semi-finals and the title-round. Semi-final No.1 will be in Port Elizabeth (St George’s Park, March 11), while Durban (Kingsmead, March 13) stages the other.
The tournament schedule will be officially released next Saturday, but well-placed sources have already revealed India’s match dates. Labelled confidential, the schedule was nevertheless circulated in Kuala Lumpur, during the just-ended ICC meetings there.
Unless Bacher and his pro team alter what has already been approved by the ICC, India’s 2003 campaign will begin on February 12, versus Holland, in Paarl’s Boland Park.
Paarl is pretty close to Cape Town, venue of the tournament-opener between South Africa and the West Indies.
After a soft start, however, India straightaway encounter Australia, at the Supersport (Centurion) Park, on February 15.
Match No.3 will be against Zimbabwe, in Harare (February 19).
[Though the tournament was awarded to South Africa, Zimbabwe and Kenya have become ‘minor’ co-hosts. Thanks to South Africa, this move is aimed at promoting cricket in the continent besides, clearly, cementing African solidarity.]
India’s last three matches will be back in South Africa: Versus debutants Namibia (Pietermaritzburg Oval, February 23), against England (Kingsmead, February 26) and versus Pakistan.
The huge Indian expats’ presence in Durban (incidentally, India’s home base in the lead-up to the tournament) should ensure much support for the tri-colour in neighbouring Pietermaritzburg as well.
India’s best in any World Cup, after winning in 1983, remains semi-finals appearances in the 1987 and 1996 editions.
INDIA IN 2003 WORLD CUP
Feb.12: Vs Holland, Paarl.
Feb.15: Vs Australia, Centurion.
Feb.19: Vs Zimbabwe, Harare.
Feb.23: Vs Namibia, Pietermaritzburg.
Feb.26: Vs England, Durban.
March 1: Vs Pakistan, Centurion.