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Kudankulam agitation and its inherent contradictions

The turn of events near the Kudankulam nuclear power plant, when a protest march by the anti-nuclear activists and local villagers ended up in a mayhem that killed one person and injured several others, is significant in more ways than one.

First, it betrays the inherent contradictions of a “peaceful” “Gandhian” movement that the anti-Kudankulam agitation claims itself to be; second, it also signals the end stage of a protracted game that will culminate in KKNPP (Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant) connecting to the grid and the agitation turning into a chronic headache for the authorities and a magnet for itinerant activists.

The most significant of the two is the sudden change in the complexion of the agitation by PMANE (People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy), the struggle committee and the villagers. So far, they appeared to be tolerant, despite their hardline Gandhian approach; but on Monday, reports and images from the field show that they did resort to non-peaceful methods.

A 4000-strong group of people moving towards a huge commission-ready nuclear power plant, however peaceful, is a certain law-and-order situation for the police and other security forces. There is nothing peaceful about a very large group of people marching towards such a sensitive facility. One erring on the right side of caution cannot dismiss police claims that the protestors were planning to attack the KKNPP whether it is true or not.

They had to be stopped and when they were stopped, there was mayhem.

Added to this, were the amphibian techniques that the protestors planned and executed. Reportedly they opened fronts both on land and at sea creating considerable confusion and operational difficulty for the police. That the plant could be accessed from the sea could certainly add to the concerns of the security forces.

Monday’s protest also had the hallmarks of the radicalism that many of the people’s movements in India show, such as giving no space for negotiations; fielding women, children and the old at the frontline, and resorting to homegrown techniques of stalemating the authorities and security forces that could lead to police excesses.

This radicalism, after some hide-and-seek with the police, will have to end in violence as was witnessed on Monday. PTI

And this radicalism, after some hide-and-seek with the police, will have to end in violence as was witnessed on Monday.

But the more disappointing contradiction of PMANE is ideological. It did appear to be a progressive, all-encompassing people’s movement which fought nuclear energy, while sharing its concerns for other issues that the poor people of the country face. But in its desperation to stop the KKNPP, PMANE appears to have gone scatter-brained.

What else can explain former army chief VK Singh turning anti-nuclear and batting for PMANE. Singh, till the other day presided over an army that was nuclear-ready and authorised to fire shells and drop bombs. PMANE, in its list of supporters, also has a former naval chief.

And Justice VR Krishna Iyer, who wrote to the chief minister J Jayalalithaa, supporting its cause, pleading on his “bended knees” sounds sycophantic when he calls her the “saviour of Tamil masses” and says “Great Jayalalithaa, your prestige is in the courage that you show in stopping nuclear power....”

However, the hilarious part, which incidentally is ideologically revolting is “Koodankulam children” writing to Obama’s daughters asking for their intervention. Urging next generation of imperialism? Asking American president’s daughters to save them?

Perhaps this is why the home ministry keeps harping on external forces at play.

However hard she tries to be sypmathetic to the agitators, the options for Jayalalithaa are unfortunately limited. Cripped with power-shortage, the state needs electricty to stay alive; in fact much more than what Kudankulam can provide. Her government is desperately trying to bridge the massive power deficit in the state.

The state needs at least 3000-3500 MW of power to meet existing demand, not to mention the rapid capacity addition that is required for the industrial expansion and the proposed development of the state as envisaged in its 2023 vision document.

And she has made it clear as well. In her statement she has urged people not to fall for the false campaign of the protestors and listed the steps she took to ensure the safety of the plant. She also pointed to the fact that it was the Madras High Court that has given the go ahead for the fuel loading at the plant. The government action can be justified as its responsibility to uphold the Court order.

The government will go ahead with the fuel loading, power generation and also the second unit at the KKNPP.

Unfortunately for PMANE, it is also the most politically expedient and popular thing to do.

Except for the support of the villagers that it has been able to marshall and the visiting activists, most the state wants electricity and political parties and trade and industrial bodies have gone to the streets asking for an early commissioning of the plant. Other than MDMK and PMK, all the political parties in the state are pitching for the plant.

For PMANE and its supporters, it is a deadlock from which there is no escape. They do have a cause, the concerns are perhaps real and the CAG report on regulator AERB (Atomic Energy Regulatory Board) is scary. Instead of fighting on the streets and creating law-and-order problems, enlisting support from mutually conflicting sources and writing silly letters to Obama’s kids, they should make a legal case.