It is highly uncertain that the anti-Kudankulam agitation will finally shut down the Rs. 15,000 crore jewel in India’s nuclear crown; but it is certainly churning out unexpected twists along with wide-angle theatrics along the south eastern coast.
The most dramatic of them all is the Kerala CPM veteran and leader of opposition VS Achuthanandan deciding to march towards the plant-site, in direct defiance of his party whip.
Besides a serious disciplinary issue within the CPM, the situation has also created an inter-state political and law-and-order situation. The Kerala police have already complied with a request from their Tamil Nadu counterparts and stopped him at the border, just as they did a few days ago with a group of activists from Kerala.
Still, the sentiments he will evoke will certainly have inter-state ramifications, given that Kudankulam has no statewide public support in Tamil Nadu and the people of the two states had been bitterly divided on the contentious Mullaperiyar dam.
An outspoken Achuthanandan is a strong votary of Kerala’s stand on the dam and has been highly critical of Tamil Nadu.
It will be interesting to see how the Tamil nationalist outfits, who strongly oppose Kerala’s claims on the dam, will take Achuthanandan’s support to their fight against the nuclear plant.
The dam controversy, which reached a flashpoint a few months ago, was a hugely sentimental issue of rights and sub-national pride for the Tamil groups; while politicians in Kerala, mostly from the Kerala Congress which is dominant in the hill districts, fanned irrational fears of its imminent collapse among the people of the state.
Now the same Achuthanandan is taking up their fight. Will they cheer for him?
Although totally unconnected to the nuclear plant controversy, this development will push the CPM central leadership into a disciplinary situation. Achuthanandan, who is a constant headache for the party’s official leadership in the state and at the centre on both ideological and organisational aspects, was also recently censured for breach of discipline.
He was asked not to issue public statements and also to mend his ways. In a rare development, the party had published its central committee resolution which was severely critical of the veteran leader and said that he had admitted to all his mistakes. The reports from the central committee meeting, that discussed the breach of discipline by him, had also said that this would be perhaps his last chance in the party. The CPM is pro-nuclear energy and officially supports the Kudankulam project.
Despite the fact that the march was foiled by Kerala police on the border, Achuthanandan has made a symbolic point. The ball is now in the CPM’s court on as to what to do with him. The anti-Kudankulam agitators are not likely to gain anything from this, except another entry to their growing list of non-Tamil personalities who are lending their names and voices to the agitation.
Meanwhile, the protest is turning out to be a magnet for a number of anti-establishment voices - diverse groups, parties and people that are opposed to the State for various reasons, not just environmental or anti-nuclear activists.
For instance, the political parties that support the movement are VCK, MDMK and Nam Tamilar Katchi, which are strong Tamil national parties that openly support Tamil separatism in Sri Lanka, and the TMMK, the Muslim outfit that staged a protest in front of the US consulate in Chennai in connection with the recent cartoon controversy. Curiously, VCK is a member of the UPA alliance, while MDMK and NTK are strongly anti-Congress.
Although there is no public or political support for the agitators in the state, the movement has been able to galvanise the support of regular activists representing diverse causes - Tamil nationalists, Dalit activists, poets, human rights groups, anti-corruption crusaders, environmentalists, anti-nuclear activists, political dissidents, the Church, free-speech campaigners and so on.
In fact, it is a new omnibus of activism. At an operational level, some of them have enough reasons to fight with one another. For instance, Vaiko and his MDMK will be at loggerheads with the environmental group from Kerala, who are opposed to both Mullaperiyar as well as Kudankulam. While riding in the omnibus, however, their voices have no disharmony because they have a common enemy - the State.
The agitation has also led to a number of theatrics in the recent days. Inspired by the “Jal Sathyagragh” in Madhya Pradesh, hundreds of women, children and men jumped into the sea and stood there for hours; one of them falling to his death which the agitators alleged was because of a low-flying Coast Guard plane. The next day, many of them dug themselves neck-deep in sea-sand and created a “graveyard”. There were also rituals of cleansing the church, which was allegedly desecrated by the police.
Over the last several months, the protestors had undertaken several dramatic and ritualistic events, some even to shun the general charge that the agitation is largely Christian and is backed by the Church.
The bottomline is that anti-Kudankulam agitation has emerged as a crucible of causes, not just nuclear safety. This common minimum programme is exactly what makes one wary.