Special Correespondent

Koodankulam has become a rallying point for struggle to save Indian democracy from the neo-liberal theocracy. Concerned citizens and activists from all over the country are on their way to Koodankulam. Former Naval Chief, Senior Jurists, Engineers, Professors and Students, Women Organisations, Lawyers and Human Rights Activists have joined this crucial battle where common people are confronting a mighty state and its nuclear obsession.

Ali Abbas, 24, is a young student doing Masters in Social Work from Noida’s Amity University. After joining the candlelight vigil at New Delhi’s India Gate on March 11th marking the first year of Fukushima nuclear disaster, he decided to join the growing movement in his own country to prevent future Fukushimas. He says “when even after a year, the nuclear accident in Fukushima is beyond control and Japan has incurred losses worth billions of dollars, it is foolish to put our own people under risk.”

K.Sahadevan from Kerala is leading a contingent of hundreds of young activists who will reach battleground Idinthakarai on 14th with tree saplings, symbolizing the pursuit of saving and nurturing life.

The National Fishworkers Forum(NFF) has declared March 15th a No Fishing Day in support of the agitation against the Koodankulam Nuclear Power Project. The KKNPP has threatened the safety and livelihoods of the majority of coastal community who are dependant on fishing. In his press release, Thomas Kocherry of the NFF says:

“The Fukushima accident serves as a glaring reminder for the Kudankulam anti-nuclear plant activists that states do not have solutions for serious social, economic and ecological crises of our time. On the contrary, governments are making disasters, not unmaking them, risking our collective future for their own short-term gains. The legacy of Chernobyl or Fukushima or Three Miles Island proves that nuclear power is not without enormous risk. Though the government is fond of nuclear power because it has already invested crores in the industry, we are ill-prepared for the coming of nuclear power. A nuclear plant gives us 40-50 years of cheap, clean energy, followed by 1,00,000 years of waste management. The government can also think of an alternative way to promoting renewable energy, like wind, solar and bio-mass energy. We can save energy by having electricity transmission through underground cables and changing into CFL bulbs.”

While the Indian Prime Minister claimed on-board his trip to Russia in December last year that the protests in  Koodankulam are “overdone” and the government went ” out of its way” to convince people about the safety of Koodankulam reactors, the activists have an entirely different story. After a 12-day hunger strike by more than 125 people in Idinthakarai in August 2011, when the Central Government agreed to respect Tamil Nadu State Cabinet’s resolution to stop the construction and start dialogue with people, the People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy(PMANE) requested for an open and democratic discussion between the 15-member Expert Committee appointed by the Indian Government and the 24-member independent Expert Panel organised by the movement. When the govt refused it, the PMANE asked for some 50 essential documents pertaining to the safety, environmental impacts, emergency preparations and costs of the reactor to enable the agitating people to have an informed debate. The Central govt declined to share these documents and has declared the hastily drafted report of its own Expert Committee as the final word. Obviously, people remain unconvinced.

Throughout the process of this dialogue between the PMANE and the Central Government’s Expert Committee, the authorities kept building up cases against the activists, including charges of sedition and “war against the Indian state”. The govt’s supportive media indulged in worst kinds of malicious reporting about the Koodankulam activists, questioning their religious backgrounds and practically inciting violence against them by publicizing their mobile numbers and contact details. When the leading activists of Koodankulam Satyagraha complained about receiving obscene and threatening calls, the newspaper backtracked. Meanwhile, the workers of the Congress party, ruling at the Centre, repeatedly indulged in violence against activists and even attacked women. The struggling people chose not to be provoked and provide any pretext to the government for crackdown.

Now that the dialogue between the movement and the government has failed and the PM himself has come out openly against the movement alleging “foreign hands” behind it, there is a wide-spread apprehension in the democratic sections of the Indian society that the govt might resort to naked violence and repression on the peaceful movement. Appointment of the Ex-Chief  of the Atomic Energy Commission as the head of an expert team by the Tamil Nadu State Government has also fueled such apprehensions. Earlier this month, a number of eminent Indians – writers, artists, jurists, scientists and activists – issued a statement demanding resumption of dialogue, wider consultation in India on nuclear energy and an immediate moratorium on the nuclear power plants in India.

Dr. Arati Chokshi, a scientist and an activist of People’s Union of Civil Liberties (Bangalore) will be visiting Idinthakarai for the second time in last 3 months. In her letter to the Indian Prime Minister after his remark that the Koodankulam protests are instigated by “foreign hand”, she wrote:

“India is at a serious crossroad – to subserve a State-Corporate nexus by siphoning off all national resources with processes such as SEZs, commodification of water, industrial energy subsidies, encouraging GM of our food security and promoting FDIs, or, to reassert the true sovereignty of the citizens of this secular and democratic republic, so that even the highest appointments of the State must first represent and serve people’s interest.”

Evidently, the Koodankulam struggle has sparked a bigger debate, not only on how the question of nuclear power, energy security and “development” will be addressed in our country, but also how a peaceful popular dissent will be tackled by the “world’s largest democracy”, a phrase that repeatedly popped up during US-India bonhomie on nuclear commerce.