SP Udayakumar, Coordinator, People's Movement Against Nuclear Energy

Interview with S. P. Udayakumar by R. Nandalal conducted for a Malayalam newspaper.

1. 1. How did you happen to get involved in the struggle against KKNPP? Can you elaborate on the initial stages of the struggle and on the formation of PMANE?

In the late 1980’s, I started “Group for Peaceful Indian Ocean (GPIO)” with my friends to protest against the presence of American, British, French and Soviet navies with nuclear weapons in their Indian Ocean bases such as Diego Garcia. We were naturally interested in nuclear power and Koodankulam issue also. The project was shelved when Soviet Union collapsed, Gorbachev lost power and Rajiv was killed. I went to the United States for higher studies in 1989. When the Koodankulam project was revived, I started an email listserv against the project. When I returned to India in 2001, I met with Y. David, who had spearheaded the movement before, and we started the People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy (PMANE) at Madurai in November 2001.

2. There are reported attempts on the part of nuclear authorities to divide the protesters on the basis of occupation (fishing community), locality (ignorant villagers), religion (Christian priests) etc. and to discourage them from participating in the struggle. How do you counter it and retain the unity among the protesters?

Instead of listening to the people’s concerns and complaints and taking action in a responsible manner, the central government is trying all its dirty tricks on us. They try to divide us along caste and communal lines; create fake and baseless support groups who do not have any understanding on the issue at hand; try to confuse the people with false and fictitious accusations about foreign funding, foreign connections, anti-national activities etc.

We counter it by speaking the truth in simple and straight-forward language. Truth has its beauty and magic. We tell the people that all these are devious attempts to divide and ruin us. Our honest and hardworking people know who speak the truth and who lie to them.

3. Narayanaswami of the PMO and certain others have raised a charge of ‘foreign hand’ in the opposition against KKNPP. It is alleged that you are trying to scuttle India’s fast development in the energy sector and doing harm to power-starved Tamil Nadu. How do you counter these charges especially in the popular media?

People of India know very well who are signing secret agreements with capitalistic Russia,France and the United States and do not even discuss these important issues with them or even in the Parliament. People of India know very clearly who compromise their interests and hand them over to “foreign hands” for their own selfish gains and kickbacks.

We admit India has growing need for electricity; and we are not scuttling the “fast development” that is largely on paper and policy pronouncements. We advocate much easier and quicker ways of finding solutions for the energy needs. We suggest modernizing our electricity infrastructure; eliminating transmission and distribution loss; stopping theft; focusing on New Energies; setting up windmills, solar power stations, and other installations all over the country; planning ‘decentralized and demand-based’ generation (rather than ‘centralized and supply-based’ generation); and think and act like a world leader and not as world slave of western countries.

4. “The plant has been completed. Will it not be a waste of public money if the plant is abandoned at this stage. Where have these protesters been all these years?”. These are the questions raised by even knowledgeable people. Your response?

We have been protesting against the KKNPP project continuously and consistently since its site selection stage. The government of India (GoI) and the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) promised 10,000 jobs, water from Pechiparai dam in Kanyakumari district and fabulous growth and development to the people of Koodankulam village and alienated them from us. These manipulated people thought we were their enemies. Now the people of Koodankulam realize that they have been deceived and have joined hands with us. GoI and DAE never shared the basic info such as the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) with the local people, never conducted a public hearing, and never bothered to consult with us, or listen to us. Most importantly, they never took our opposition seriously. Now they are accusing us of acting very late. This is unfair.

Imagine you are arranging a fabulous wedding for your loving daughter with so much color and glamour. You spend a fortune on the wedding arrangements and food and festivities. A few hours before the wedding ceremony, the groom’s doctor tells your daughter that the boy is suffering from AIDS and she decides not to marry him. What will you do as a responsible parent? Will you think that it would be a waste of your money if the wedding was abandoned at that stage, force your daughter and go ahead with the ceremony? Or would you rather listen to your beloved child, cancel the wedding and save your dear daughter’s and grandchildren’s lives? This is exactly the case with the KKNPP. Never mind the money spent; if the people think it is a bad project, a responsible government should shut it down.

We need not abandon the KKNPP project and the buildings. We can turn it into a gas-powered station, incorporate the energy from all the hundreds of windmills in the area, set up a super hybrid energy park, house all the workers in the township and save Nature and natural resources for the future generations.

5. Do you think that if the government approaches you with a proper ‘package’, such as the one proposed by A.P.J. Abdul Kalam the government can win over the majority of the people in the locality and commission the plant?

Our people who are fighting so valiantly for life, livelihood, Nature and Future do not fall for this kind of petty bribes.

6. Has Dr. Kalam’s visit produced any impact in the locality?

Yes, indeed. Dr. Kalam met with 25 contractors and Congressmen at Chettikulam and announced to the country that he had met with the local people. After a couple of days, on November 11, 2011, we held a one-day hunger strike at Chettikulam village and at least 10,000 people showed up for that.

7. There was report of one Vijayan along with a group of people meeting the district collector and other officials pressing for early commissioning of the plant. He has threatened with a struggle to implement the project. Any comment?

This NPCIL-fostered former Chettikulam panchayat president and his large following of 25 people did launch their struggle. And met with Dr. Kalam and collector. The struggle is over now.

8. Are you optimistic about the outcome of the struggle? Do you believe that you will get the continued support of the Tamil Nadu government ? What do you think of the chance of involvement of the middle class in the Koodankulam issue?

Yes, I am very optimistic about the outcome of the struggle. And I do believe that we will get the continued support of the Tamil Nadu government. If that is indeed the case, I also believe that the people of Tamil Nadu will reward Ms. Jayalalitha with 40 MPs and she will climb greater heights in India’s national politics. The chances of involvement of the middle classes are really good as more and more people realize that India’s nuclear projects are designed and devised to create jobs for foreigners, make profit for foreign corporations, and generate kickbacks and commissions for Indian politicians and bureaucrats.

9. What is your view on the involvement of people from Kerala and elsewhere in the struggle? Is it adequate? What would you like to tell the people of Kerala now, from the active battlefront at Idinthakarai?

As someone who lived and studied in Kerala, speaks Malayalam rather well, and knows Kerala intimately with bosom friends, I have great regards for the people of ‘God’s Own Country.’ People from all over Kerala come to Idinthakarai almost every day and express their genuine interest in shutting down KKNPP. It is not adequate though. They must start a struggle of their own in Kerala to make the Kerala assembly to pass a resolution against the KKNPP project and put pressure on the GoI to do that.

10. “People are ignorant. It is up to the scientists to ‘allay their fears’. What do these activists who have studied literature and history know about the working of Nuclear Projects?” These have been the words used by a few nuclear advocates to snub the antinuclear activists opposing KKNPP. Do you wish to respond?

This kind of Gaborian division of humanity into smart scientists and dumb masses has become outdated. The days of nuclear arrogance are over. (Dennis Gabor was a British scientist).

11. What are your views on nonviolent struggles in India and elsewhere on environmental and human rights issues? Would you elaborate on Gandhian non violence as a strategy for victory?

I believe very strongly that only Gandhian nonviolence will deliver goods in a fight for environmental justice. We have had several significant successes in our country such as the Chipko movement, the Plachimada movement and so on. To borrow the words of Vivekananda, it all depends on 3 Ps of the movement: purity, patience and perseverance.

12. Are the Tamil Nadu activists just saying that they don’t want a nuclear plant in their backyard or are they in a mood to support anti nuclear movements elsewhere?

We want a nuclear-free Tamil Nadu, nuclear-free India, and nuclear-free world. And we start with Koodankulam.

13. Don’t you feel the responsibility too heavy on the Koodankulam movements as antinuclear struggles all over India are looking up to the victory of Koodankulam as a morale booster?

We are doing what we should be doing with utmost sincerity, honesty, integrity and total commitment. Others can take what is useful, relevant, interesting, noble, and effectual from our experiences.

14. Could you share some personal information on your birth place, education, family, profession, interests, activities etc. for the sake of readers here in Kerala.

I was born to public-minded parents at Nagercoil in 1959. I went to school and college in Nagercoil, did my first Masters in English literature in Kerala University (1979-81), the second in Peace Studies at Notre Dame University in Indiana (1989-90), and Ph.D. in Political Science at University of Hawaii (1990-96). I taught English in Ethiopian high schools for six years (1981-87) and studied and worked in the United States for 12 years. I teach peace studies courses (conflict transformation, nonviolence, human rights, futures studies, sustainable development) in several universities around the world. My wife and I run an alternative school at Nagercoil with the motto “a green school for future leaders” and our boys attend that school. I enjoy reading, writing, travelling and organizing. And I am a proud farmer.