21 Oct 2011

Koodankulam to Chennai

As banana bajji wrapped in a newspaper took the round of the motley gathering on the roof of a house in Besant Nagar, no one was too keen to have it. They had arrived at the venue at five o’clock as planned, after a tiring day at their jobs and colleges. However, their own hunger was not on their mind right now. They were more concerned about fisherfolk and local residents of a coastal village, more than 700 kilometers south of Chennai, many of whom have not gone to sea or earned any income since they started an agitation more than a month ago. These villagers have been protesting against the commissioning of Koodankulam Nuclear Power Plant in Tirunelveli district of Tamil Nadu, which according to them not only poses danger to their livelihood by endangering the marine life but even holds larger nuclear safety issues.

Nityanand Jayaraman, a well-known environmental activist based in Chennai had called ‘youngsters and other interested people’ to plan a solidarity action on the part of the capital city, through an impassioned appeal on various mailing groups, “We're faced with a tremendous opportunity, made possible by the struggles of thousands of fisherfolk, who are camped outside the gate of the Koodankulam nuclear power plant even as we speak. The Government of India is unrelenting in its insistence that the plant should be commissioned. The Government of Tamil Nadu has made half-hearted gestures that it is in support of the agitation. If people put their weight and support behind the struggle, we have a possibility of getting Tamil Nadu declared as a nuclear-free state, and closed for all future nuclear power plant proposals.”

Though hardly a dozen and a half turned up at the meeting organised today evening at the collective’s office, it did not deter those present to carry on the proceedings with utmost conviction.

Protests against this project have been going on since its very inception, more than two decades ago. The adjoining info-graphic traces its history. Click on it to enlarge.

The present round of agitations started with 127 villagers going on an indefinite hunger strike on Sep 11 as the date of commissioning of the first two reactors neared. Their basic apprehensions rose from the plight of Japanese towns of Okuma and Futaba following the Fukushima-Daichii nuclear disaster in March earlier this year which led to release of radioactive material.

Those present at the meeting concurred that Fukushima disaster being fresh in the minds of the people can also be used as a rallying point in their solidarity action. On the basis of extensive brainstorming, various ideas came up, were rebutted, were shelved or accepted.

Nityanand cautioned that the solidarity action should be immediate but not sporadic. The group narrowed down to a petition campaign as their central medium. However, they argued for it to be more meaningful than just a signature campaign. It was decided that it will include fund-raising, in form of Rs 5 donations, to help the poor agitators, and will invite all those interested to further workshops and seminars on the issue. Besant Nagar was chosen as the venue for the petition campaign where the volunteers will create awareness over the weekend. A photo exhibition and a documentary screening were also planned at various venues which will exhibit the nuclear accidents at Chernobyl, Jaduguda and Fukushima to bring to light the dangers of nuclear reactors.

There was also an appeal to push the envelope further. A suggestion was made in this direction to encourage the petitioners to adopt bio-composting at their homes. The argument was that by doing so, they can reduce their carbon footprint considerably which can act as an alternative to government’s assertion that nuclear energy is the only answer to global warming being caused by carbon-based fuels.

Around half past six in the evening as it started getting darker, the collective members decided to disperse. The action will now shift to Besant Nagar beach which will see the tides of a new commitment, promising to be more than just a token gesture.

Image Courtesy:
My new found interest in Photoshop

18 Oct 2011

A political victory or a lost Cause?

The result of Hisar by-election is being read in many ways by the political pundits. The event kick-started the anti-Congress campaign of Team Anna. It seems as if Team Anna has taken it to itself to be the panacea of all ills in Indian political landscape. Its first detour from the basic objective of getting the Jan Lokpal Bill legislated came when it called for electoral reforms. It included introduction of negative voting and the recalling of sitting legislators. In this context, campaigning in Hisar should have been about making the voters aware about the credentials of all the candidates. The choice of candidate should have been left to the ‘informed’ citizenry.

Fight against corruption should not be limited to the political party in power at the centre. It is endemic to the whole political system. It is questionable if Team Anna’s intervention had any role to play in the defeat of Congress candidate and the forfeiture of his security deposit. However, the way Team Anna is meddling in the actual political process puts a big question mark on its often claimed apolitical overtures. With the eyes now set on the UP assembly elections, it may do further disservice to its own cause. Anna, himself has been vacillating between the stands of giving Congress a breather till the Winter session of Parliament on one hand and personally entering the anti-Congress campaign in UP on the other. Focus needs to be shifted back to the Jan Lokpal Bill. The support that Team Anna garnered was for this basic agenda. It cannot keep stacking newer agendas on it, hoping that all its wishes will be fulfilled within the ambit of this single movement.

It is true that Congress has been making many political manoeuvrings inside and outside the Parliament to stall the passing of a meaningful Jan Lokpal Bill. However, Anna should continue using the civil society route to bring to light such practices. He might have testified it many a times that he is having no political ambitions. But this might not be true for his foot-soldiers. It is a known fact that one of the Team Anna members resigned from the police services on being bypassed for a coveted office. So to claim that the people behind this movement are above such power motives will be naïve. In this context, taking the fight to political arena will only make things more complex. Moreover, the movement may also lose a considerable chunk of sympathisers if it gets reduced to anti-Congress from anti-Corruption.

The movement is already being negatively affected by the incoherent statements coming out of the Team Anna camp. While Anna and other members have distanced themselves from Prashant Bhushan’s statement on Kashmir, Santosh Hegde has openly shown his displeasure over Kejriwal’s move to meddle in the Hisar by-elections. As Anna sits on a week-long vow of silence for ‘peace of soul’, two prominent activists P V Rajagopal and 'Waterman' Rajinder Singh quit its core committee over the latter issue of ‘political turn’ of movement. Democracy within the movement should definitely be appreciated. All the members should have a right to voice their personal opinions on different issues. However, for the sake of Jan Lokpal Bill, some coherence is needed. Any such incoherent statements and infighting give the detractors an opportunity to make a mountain out of a molehill. Therefore, it is important for Anna to bring together his foot-soldiers and unify the camp. This is a prerequisite to sustain the battle against the indifference of the political honchos towards an effective Jan Lokpal Bill.

P.S. This is the first draft of my editorial for our Lab Journal in ACJ to be published this Saturday

Image Courtesy:
Designed by me

11 Oct 2011

A Bookmark From Life

In the Image:
I standing on the Besant Nagar (Elliot's) Beach.

Image Courtesy:
Saurabh Goyal