By Adhitya Srinivasan
The impasse over the Kudankulam nuclear reactor refuses to die out. The past few weeks have witnessed a closely contested sparring match between the protestors on the one hand and the Central Government on the other. Much argumentation and public posturing has transpired but no result has been achieved. Instead, the nation’s intelligence has been insulted by a pointless and directionless drama between the two sides. One may remember that Organiser had raised several questions when the issue of the Kudankulam protest was last addressed (‘Probe and expose the ploy’, Organiser, 30.10.2011):
1. Why was the protest against the Kudankulam nuclear reactor organised just months before the commissioning of the reactor?
2. Was there was an invisible hand that had timed the protest in a manner that would embarrass Russian nuclear technology?
3. Why was the Church playing a more than proactive role in protesting against the nuclear reactor now?
4. Are the Church and its leadership being used as a front for the protest by larger players?
5. Does the Church fear that conversion activity will take a hit if the nuclear project is allowed to function?
In the past one month, a number of events have taken place with regards to the KKNPP project and some of these events tend to buttress the need to have the above questions answered. TK Sathiaseelan, President of the All-India Congress Labour Front (AICLF) has gone on record to say that “Catholic priests are instigating anti-KKNPP protests with funds mobilised from countries who are against the development of our nation”. He further alleged that local villagers were being paid 500 rupees a day to attend the ‘relay fast’ against the project. The fact is that it is impossible to sustain a budget where every protestor is paid 500 rupees for several days unless the protest has been funded by vested interests. Politicians from Tamil Nadu are treasure troves and are known to buy votes with that kind of money. But no major political party in the State has supported the Kudankulam agitation. So where is the money coming from?
TK Sathiaseelan, President of the All-India Congress Labour Front (AICLF) has gone on record to say that “Catholic priests are instigating anti-KKNPP protests with funds mobilised from countries who are against the development of our nation”. He further alleged that local villagers were being paid 500 rupees a day to attend the ‘relay fast’ against the project.
Former President of India and renowned missile scientist, Abdul Kalam visited Tirunelveli District and endorsed the Kudankulam nuclear power project. Kalam, one of the pioneers of the historic Pokhran-II Tests in 1998, personally visited the plant and assured the people of its safety standards. As fate would have it, the protestors displayed little regard for Kalam’s stature as former President and learned scientist and brazenly dismissed his assurances. It is important to remember that Abdul Kalam has occupied the highest office in the Republic of India and as a representative of the people of India, he would not in good conscience accept anything that is detrimental to the people or their safety. So why was his assurance dismissed without a thought?
A third incident took place in early November when the Bishop of Tuticorin directed his priests and nuns to stay away from the Kudankulam protest. It appeared as if the Bishop’s directive was issued in the background of media allegations that the Kudankulam protest was being organised entirely by the Catholic Church. In a bizarre turn of events, just a few days later, the Bishop denied any such instruction and affirmed his opposition to the Kudankulam project. Now, it is obvious that the initial climb down was aimed at denying a Church presence in the protest. But what is amusing and inexplicable is why the Bishop retracted from his earlier directive.
Is there any irrefutable way of exposing the presence of a foreign hand in the Kudankulam protest? This is a question that has no doubt troubled the Intelligence Bureau (IB) which has painstakingly sought to establish a foreign connection over the last two months. One method, (though not a fool-proof method), is to scan the funding of the churches who have lent their support to the protest. If there is an abnormal increase in receipts over the last few months or years, it does raise a suspicion. The problem is that the churches are very well organised – so much so that it is impossible to conclusively say that the ultimate beneficiary of foreign funds was also the original recipient. In any case, if the churches have nothing to be afraid of and if they believe that their protest is truly bona fide then they will have no problems with publishing a statement of their receipts over the last few years.
This takes us to a larger issue. Commentators such as S Gurumurthy have expressed that the Kudankulam incident is part of a trend where India’s forays into nuclear energy have been thwarted by local Church groups. [‘Forces halting our n-surge’. The New Indian Express. 15 November, 2011] He cites the example of how uranium mining in the Khasi Hills in Meghalaya has been abruptly discontinued over the last two decades owing to protests heavily backed and organised by the church of Meghalaya. Similarly, he also refers to incidents in Jharkhand. The need to harvest our uranium reserves is underscored by the fact that the only other source for uranium is the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) which does not sell uranium unless a country has signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and it has access to a country’s nuclear reactors for the purpose of inspection. Moreover, the import of uranium is expensive and unlikely to be sustainable in the long-run. The question then is this: If uranium is so crucial to our energy requirements, why is the church blocking national efforts that seek to tap nuclear energy?
At this juncture, it might also be well for us to revisit the controversial Indo-US nuclear deal. One would remember that that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh won a controversial vote of confidence in 2008. In exchange for a future moratorium on testing nuclear weapons by India, the US assured that it would facilitate the supply of nuclear materials to India, despite India not signing the NPT. The media not only celebrated the nuclear deal as great step forward towards bridging the energy requirement gap but also asserted that the BJP had lost its traditional urban vote due to its opposition to the deal.
Three years down the line, things are very different. The United States continues to enjoy the right to immediately terminate nuclear cooperation with India in the event that India conducts future tests. But India has yet to receive any benefit under the nuclear deal. In fact, the Obama administration has insisted on the earlier position that the NSG will not supply to a nation which has not signed the NPT. So as things stand, India has surrendered its testing capabilities and has received nothing for it! To take it from the top, the events that are transpiring tell us the following: local churches are opposing the functioning of nuclear reactors installed by non-US states; local church groups have ensured that India is not allowed to mine uranium for energy requirements; and no nuclear technology seems to be accruing to India in consequence of the nuclear deal. The reader is left to connect the dots.