Face to Face: SP Udayakumar
‘There aren’t any failures, just learning experiences’
Vijayan MJ and Bhargavi DilipKumar Kudankulum
Interview with SP Udayakumar, leader of the People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy, Kudankulam, Tamil Nadu. He is a teacher, writer and social activist who has been part of the movement since its early days
What do you make of the recent turn of events including the announcement by the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) of fuel loading of the plant? What does this mean to the resistance?
The fuel loading at the plant and the recent police attack on villagers at Kudankulam is telling us that this is the beginning of the end of democracy. When the first nuclear weapon test was carried out on May 19, 1998, many felt happy for the great leap. Many others expressed concern that nuclearisation, lacking transparency and accountability, can only survive in an atmosphere of secrecy which would eventually destroy democracy. Today, the Department of Atomic Energy, with direct access to the PMO, is affecting the realms of national security, military policy, development policy and other key areas. Decisions which could result in calamitous consequences are being made without allowing space for discussion or debate. Being a powerful department, they are trying to break any resistance which dares to challenge their authority. The department has joined hands with the state, its police and other religious fundamentalist and nationalist groups to attack unarmed civilians who are struggling for their rights and livelihood. This is not the end of a resistance, but the end of democracy.
The Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant (KKNPP) movement is 24 years old. You have been associated with it from the beginning. What is your take on similar resistance movements across India?
Democracy has been reduced to mere lip service by politicians and bureaucrats. But the understanding of democracy that people have gained in the last 65 years of independence cannot be destroyed by the cunning political games played by people in power. When the government’s initial efforts to wipe out our movement failed, they turned to cheap tricks and falsely implicated us on several charges. Earlier this year the government accused our movement of being ‘foreign funded’ and targetted the church and NGOs. Our movement is completely funded by the people. Some churches and NGOs only lent their solidarity. By targetting these organisations, they are sending out warnings to the people supporting us. A German national was mysteriously deported for allegedly spearheading the anti-Kudankulam struggle! He was a tourist with absolutely no connections to our movement. Thousands of our people have been charged under the sedition law. We overcome such hurdles every day.
We have witnessed strong struggles for land, forest, water and other resources rights like those in Plachimada, Jagatsinghpur, Singur, Nandigram, Narmada, Bhopal, Srikakulam, Kashipur. People and their leaders must learn from the experiences of such movements. It is the right time now for us to build an alternative to the current corrupt system. Our children and youth need to be sensitised about the issues
faced by deprived communities and their struggles.
How would you rate the success and failure of the anti-KKNPP movement?
The movement has strongly challenged and shaken the so-called nuclear science industry, along with its domain of high-end scientists, engineers and experts who have never really dared to explain the nuclear plants in the country. The movement has created awareness about the far-reaching impact of nuclear energy on a vast population. Our biggest success is the discipline and peaceful mode of protests that we have upheld from the beginning.
The movement has raised committed community leaders, including women. Internal democracy is sincerely attempted; decisions and resolutions are passed only with the consensus of the community. The movement has a holistic approach; it not only opposes the commissioning of KKNPP but fights for the closure of all nuclear power plant projects all over the country. That way, the movement has a clear ideological, political and economic understanding.
There aren’t failures, just learning experiences. When there is repression or life and property are affected, our energies become low. Tackling the forces attempting to break the movement using caste and religion is a great challenge. The communication lines, especially with other people’s movements and solidarity groups, are hard to maintain as our access and mobility is restricted by the government.