The Koodankulam protest is to assert democracy

Dr. V. Suresh

by V. Suresh

By all accounts, the 230-day anti-Koodankulam nuclear power plant protest by villagers of Idinthakarai and Koodankulam in Tirunelveli district has been totally Gandhian.

Not a single stone has been thrown, although local people have been engaged in an intense struggle to safeguard their rights to a safe environment threatened by the nuclear power plant.

People have been unusually restrained despite provocation by the police who have been filing FIRs against thousands, accusing the protesters of “waging war against India”, of being “dhrogis” (traitors) or seditious, fomenting communal divisions.

The protesters are clear: their fight is to leave behind for future generations an environmentally safer, inclusive, equitable and sustainable habitat, the same way their ancestors left for them. Their agitation is against an economic policy that appropriates all natural resources from rural areas for the benefit of a power-greedy, all-consuming, self-centred and unconcerned upper class and upper-caste elite, which includes the professionals.

Whether it is a big dam or a thermal power project, or as in Koodankulam a nuclear power plant, elite India recommends that protests be crushed. So long as the elite get uninterrupted power, they remain unbothered about social and environmental consequences of these projects.

India is witnessing a plunder of its natural resources like water, land, forests, sand and stone, and coal and other minerals, on a scale not seen before. Professional Indians are complicit in this plunder. There are innumerable instances when our industrialists, scientists, technical consultants and institutions have seriously compromised our safety, health and future.

The National Green Tribunal indictment of the approval for Posco shows this. What do ordinary, rural, powerless Indians do in the face of this corrupt, complicit and conspiratorial framework of governance other than asserting their democratic rights to protest?

The rest of India needs to understand that the Koodankulam agitation is not for petty, personal benefits; it is to assert “democracy” and an inclusive economic paradigm. The seven-year-old mass-based anti-Posco struggles in Orissa and the Koodankulam protest are symptomatic of a revolt by rural India against the dictatorial and tyrannical regime of a mafia of corrupt politicians, businessmen and industrialists. Rulers should respond democratically, not use repression.

It is unfortunate that governments rarely respond with openness and sensitivity to demands for accountability and information until violent protests burst out. So, who is to blame — protesters or the decision-makers in the government?

People are agitating to reclaim democracy. The right to dissent and the consequent right to protest and agitate is the foundation of democracy. The right to dissent is a sophisticated democratic expression of the innate right of people to throw out a dictatorial regime through democratic, non-violent means such as the ballot, as also protest actions.

Denying the right to protest may lead to chaos, violence and bloodshed. We are living in a democracy and no one can forget that — neither the government nor the people.

(V.Suresh is National Secretary, People’s Union for Civil Liberties,Tamil Nadu,India)