ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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The Real 'Foreign Hand'

The government's paranoia about protests against large projects has gone out of all proportion.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s throwaway remark in an interview to Science magazine that non-governmental organisations (NGOs) funded by groups in the United States and some Scandinavian countries were behind the sustained opposition of local people to the nuclear plant in Koodankulam, Tamil Nadu, is not just absurd, it is dangerous and must be condemned by every democratic-minded person in the country. It is absurd because there is absolutely no basis for this accusation. It is dangerous because such a statement from the prime minister of supposedly a democracy exposes an undemocratic and intolerant mindset.

For over two decades, people around Koodankulam have been expressing their opposition to the location of a nuclear power plant there. Ignored for years, what began as a tiny movement of a handful of people has steadily grown with every dismissal by the government and the nuclear establishment as uninformed opposition. Events exploded last year when, in keeping with the supercilious attitude of the Indian nuclear establishment, a casual approach to a mock emergency exercise in the year of Fukushima caused panic in the area. Since then people living around the Koodankulam plant, mostly fisherfolk, have been registering their opposition through non-violent protest. To allege that these people have done so at the instigation of a “foreign hand” is an insult not just to the commitment of these ordinary people but also to all Indians who question the government’s development policies. Do the prime minister and his government believe that those who oppose them have no agency? That they are people of a lesser intelligence who cannot understand the intricacies of nuclear power? That they are not citizens of this country with the right to decide whether they want to live in the shadow of a plant that could pose a danger to their lives in the event of an accident? The prime minister has claimed that the “thinking segment” in India supports nuclear energy. Does this mean that all those who oppose it are “unthinking” and brainless? It is clear that having tried everything short of police action to break the protests, the government is trying to delegitimise the movement by accusing it of being funded from abroad.

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