Tehelka Magazine, Vol 9, Issue 40, Dated 06 Oct 2012

AS WORK at the Koodankulam Nuclear Power Project kickstarts with the loading of fuel, SP Udayakumar, Coordinator of the People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy (PMANE) and the brain behind the anti-nuke struggle, finds himself on the run. Following a warrant for his arrest, the 53-year-old Udayakumar has been forced to shift base from the St Lourdes Matha Church in Idinthakarai to Koothankuli, where more than 200 volunteers guard him day and night. In a candid interview, the antinuke activist tells Jeemon Jacob why PMANE will continue its struggle and why he cannot rule out the possibility of entering politics.

SP Udayakumar
SP Udayakumar


Loading of fuel is in progress at the Koodankulam plant. Do you feel that you are on the verge of a losing battle?
Our struggle will not end tomorrow, it will go on forever. We have been protesting against the Koodankulam Nuclear Power Project (KKNPP) since 1989 and have intensified the protest in the last 406 days. It’s true that KKNPP has started loading fuel at its plants violating all safety norms, but now, the Supreme Court has also raised the question of safety. When we started our struggle, we knew that our path would not be easy. Today, there are more than 10,000 people in Idinthakarai sitting in protest. Another 8,000 are protesting in Koothankuli. There are other villages protesting too. It has become a mass movement and mass movements with conviction seldom die.

But, what’s the point in protesting after the nuclear plant becomes operational?
We have reached a point of no return. Over the last 10 days, police has unleashed terror in our villages. They raided our homes, arresting women and children and registering sedition cases against thousands of people. They did not even spare the old and the handicapped. Around 350 cases have been registered against two lakh people in the coastal areas. “With SP Udayakumar, Pushparayan Victoria and 400 others,” they can even register cases against the unborn. People within a 7 km radius have been accused in at least half a dozen criminal cases. What crimes have we done? Is it a crime to sit and fast when you have grievances? We are fighting for a larger cause.

There are rumours that you are going to fight Lok Sabha election on a DMK ticket.
That’s a joke. For me, People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy (PMANE) is not a shortcut to politics. I did not join PMANE to become a leader. I live in Nagercoil, 35 km from Koodankulam with my family. I joined the Koodankulam struggle, as I believe that nuclear power endangers the lives of people. We have collectively taken a decision and stuck to it. As of now, I’ve no intentions of contesting elections. A section of our people wanted the anti-nuke movement to take a political turn, as we were ditched by all political parties. But I’ve strong reservations against it. We have no political colour and are driven by a cause. I wanted PMANE to remain like that. But it’s not my decision that will decide the course of our struggle.

Do you miss Idinthakarai?
I do. It was my second home for more than a year. I know everyone in that village. When I told them about my decision to surrender to the police, the women wept and the men lifted me, put me in a boat and brought me to Koothankuli. Their love and affection touched me. When I first came to Idinthakarai in 2004, I never thought the place was going to make my destiny.

How’s your life in Koothankuli?
I’ve put on weight. I’m sleeping and eating better. They take care of me well. This village is one of the toughest and most daring villages on the coast. I’m safe here.

Jeemon Jacob is Bureau Chief, South with Tehelka. 
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