Probe and expose the ploy
Missionary hand in the Kudankulam protest
By Adhitya Srinivasan
Much noise has been made over a nuclear reactor that was slated to operate out of Kudankulam in the Tirunelveli district of Tamil Nadu. On the face of it, the protest appears to have been a simple clash between human safety and environmental interests on the one hand and energy and developmental concerns on the other hand. The local residents had been organised to implore the government to scrap the nuclear project in Kudankulam and to have it transferred to another location. But was the Kudankulam protest really as simple as that? A careful analysis reveals that there is something more than meets the eye.
First, the facts: The Kudankulam Nuclear Project began pursuant to an Inter-Governmental Agreement which was entered into between the then Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi and the then Soviet Premier, Mikhail Gorbachev in 1988. During the construction phase of the nuclear reactor, there was little protest and no uprising against the Project. Several years after the project was first initiated and shortly before the reactor became operational, protests broke out in Kudankulam, demanding that the government recognises the right to life and livelihood of its citizens and that the nuclear project be scrapped completely and permanently.
Buckling under pressure, Chief Minister Jayalalithaa, abandoned her earlier stand which favoured the Kudankulam Project and agreed to pass a resolution in the State Cabinet calling for the Centre to stop the project. Typical of the Central Government in recent times, no minister has articulated the government line consistently or clearly. Union Minister V Narayanaswamy, while visiting the protest venue, proclaimed that people’s safety comes first. The Prime Minister first formed a group of experts to address the various concerns raised by the protestors. Few days later, the PM wrote to CM Jayalalithaa, seeking her support for the ‘implementation of the project’.
Now to the protestors. The protest began at St. Lurdes’ church. One of the first leaders to arrive at the protest venue was the local DMDK MLA Michael Rayyapan. On the very first day itself, a number of Catholic priests and nuns undertook an indefinite fast. The Bishop of Thootukudi, Rev. Ambrose was quick to arrive at the protest venue. In fact, the Church has backed the anti-nuclear reactor protest to the hilt. The National Council of Churches in India (NCCI) initiated an email campaign. The Church of South India (CSI) denounced the move to set up a nuclear park at Kudankulam. The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI) called for the decommissioning of nuclear reactors.
It is nobody’s case that the only protestors were Church affiliates but the overt institutional backing of the Church is undeniable and is reflected in the sheer preponderance of Church personalities among the protest leadership. This is something which a person no less than Dr Subramanian Swamy has alleged. The protest – its timing, leadership and institutional backing all raise uncomfortable questions which must be answered. As a sovereign nation we must demand that they be answered.
The first question relates to the timing of the protest. Why protest now, months before the commissioning of the nuclear reactor and not during the construction period? Leaders associated with the protest claim to have been prompted by the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan and the recent blast at a French nuclear reactor. Hence, they say that there is nothing strange about the time of their protest. Ridiculous! Were the protestors not aware of the Chernobyl nuclear accident in 1986 which had taken well before construction of the Kudankulam nuclear reactor even began? Forget Chernobyl. Were the protestors not even aware of the devastating Bhopal Gas Leak in 1984?
The truth is that Fukushima was an afterthought. An organised protest pre-construction or even during the construction period would allow the parties involved in construction to cut their costs. A protest after the construction is completed makes this impossible. Two questions arise: Whether there was an ‘invisible hand’ that had calculated the timing of the protest to not only damage Russian civil nuclear credibility but also to make it impossible for Russia to recover costs of construction? Was the Church and its leadership used as a front for this protest?
The next question that arises is why is the Church playing a more than proactive role in the Kudankulam protest? Rev. Ambrose says that the protest “has nothing to do with the Catholic Church in particular”. This is a bogus claim.
In a brilliantly researched book, “Breaking India: Western Interventions in Dravidian and Dalit Faultlines”, authors Rajiv Malhotra and Aravinda Neelakandan demonstrate how US and European churches participate actively in fostering separatist tendencies among the Dravidian and Dalit communities on the basis of identity. Their research tracked the money trail from Western churches and church affiliates which begin by claiming to be for “education”, “human rights” and “leadership training” but which end up in programmes designed to instigate anger among the youth and provoke them to shun their Indian identity. The researchers have also noted that the latest manifestation of these programmes is ‘Dravidian Christianity’ which thrives on fabricating political and cultural history.
In this context, it becomes very easy to understand the role of the Church in organising the protest. The Church was probably hoping to kill two birds with one stone. An abundance of money from the West by itself is not enough for conversion and separatist activity. Money needs to be accompanied by credibility and in organising the protest against the Kudankulam Nuclear Project, the Church hoped to acquire credibility. Secondly, the Kudankulam project would have brought development to the region in terms of employment opportunities and other trickle-down benefits. At the very least, the people of Kudankulam would have a greater supply of electricity. The Church probably apprehended that it would be difficult to organise conversion and separatism in a developed region where people were well-occupied and hence, the project must be opposed vehemently. Why else would the protestors demand that the project be scrapped completely even if all safety concerns are addressed?
The wise men in the Department of Atomic Energy suspect that the Kudankulam agitation was orchestrated with the blessings of foreign powers. They have asked the Intelligence Bureau to investigate into the funding behind the protest. The Intelligence Bureau would do well to make an honest inquiry an alert the nation to the nature of such external threats. In the meanwhile, one wonders if there would have been any protest in Kudankulam if the nuclear reactor was American or European and not Russian.