‘Both (the BJP and the Congress) are two sides of the same coin. Both are equally corrupt, both are equally communal and anti-India.’
‘The government doesn’t listen to people’s opinion anymore. They are more interested in pleasing their foreign masters and their corporate friends. They are not interested in the people of India.’
‘I am a threat to nuclear energy. I am a threat to the global nuclear industry. The governments of India, Russia, France and America are all together now. We are a threat to all of them. Their business interests are hurt. They are going to dump their outdated technology on the hapless people of India.’
Anti-nuclear activist S P Udayakumar, who has been called 'a threat to the economic security of India' in a secret report on NGOs the Intelligence Bureau submitted to the Prime Minister's Office, and who has sent a legal notice to the home ministry for 'defaming' him, speaks to A Ganesh Nadar.
S P Udayakumar, the anti-Koodankulam activist, is an upset man today. He feels false propaganda against him by the government has endangered him and his family. “What if people believe this nonsense that I am a threat to the economic security of my country? They might attack us on the road. As it is my school has been attacked twice earlier.” Udayakumar has even dashed off a legal notice to the Union home ministry for 'defaming' him in the matter and to clear his name.
He is the leader of the People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy that has been spearheading an agitation against the Koodankulam nuclear power plant for three years now. He has more than 300 cases against him and he contested the Lok Sabha elections unsuccessfully on an Aam Aadmi Party ticket from Kanyakumari.
A secret Intelligence Bureau report to the PMO has named Udayakumar in a list of NGOs it calls a ‘threat to the economic security of the country’.
There are three specific allegations against him:
The Ohio University funded his protest.
Americans funded his protest.
Certain European countries funded his protest and his contact man was a German national who was asked to leave India.
Udayakumar, who has a doctorate in political science, rubbished these allegations and also spoke at length on how he is dealing with the situation. He spoke to rediff.com’s A Ganesh Nadar in Nagercoil.
The first allegation is that Ohio University funded your protest?
John Powell was my boss between 1997 and 2001, when I worked at the University of Minnesota. I returned to India in 2001. Powell moved from the University of Minnesota to the University of Ohio as the director of the Kirwan Institute.
He called me and said ‘Why don’t you join me as the work is similar to what you were doing in Minnesota?’. They were studying the relation between poverty and race. I agreed and went and worked there. I joined as a research fellow of the international programme.
We were focusing on globalisation, minority welfare, racism and other related issues. We were doing research. None of our projects had anything to do with India, or nuclear power in India or nuclear power in any other country in the world. The Kirwan Institute was least bothered about India’s development or about India’s nuclear activities. This is a fact.
You have a doctorate from Ohio University?
I have a PhD in political science from the University of Hawaii.
Tell me more about Ohio.
This was a research institute set in a reputed university of the United States. To call that institute an NGO is complete nonsense. They will not fund any protest against nuclear energy. They are an institute researching race and poverty.
What were you doing there? Connecting race and poverty?
Yes race and poverty, minority welfare and globalisation. How all the benefits of globalisation are heaped on the top of the pyramid and not at the bottom. How racism plays a role in opportunity structure.
Many of my projects have been published in reputed magazines and books.
You firmly believe that there is a connection between race and poverty?
Oh yes. If you look at the global composition you will see that most of the poor people are coloured. If you look at opportunities, white people have a lot more opportunities than the coloured people. It is obvious that there is a correlation between race and poverty.
Why are the Adivasis and Dalits poorer than the Brahmins in this country?
You are saying that in India there is a relation between poverty and caste?
Yes. Minorities are poorer than the majority in the population. It is the same structure all over the world. Opportunities are availed by people who have more power. The so called superior races and higher castes have got more opportunities and political power and they lead better lives with more amenities.
Let’s go to the next allegation: ‘Udaykumar got unsolicited contract benefits’. It’s obvious you did not ask for it, but you got it. Another allegation is that the Americans funded the protests because Koodankulam is a Russian project.
(laughs) I don’t believe that out of 120 crore people, the Americans would choose Udayakumar to protest against Koodankulam because it is a Russian project. I am not a movie actor, I am not a religious guru, I am not a sports hero.
They chose you because you worked there.
Yes, I studied there, I worked there. But Subramanian Swamy and P Chidambaram also studied there. There are lot more powerful people who have studied and worked there. I am an insignificant person. I am a small little man from a little town called Nagercoil.
If they wanted to stop the nuclear project would they chose Udayakumar or Dr Manmohan Singh or one of his ministers?
Why would they choose a Hindu to talk to the fishermen community to agitate? (Most fishermen in Koodankulam are Christians). I do not belong to their caste, religion or profession.
It is a completely absurd and nonsensical claim. Actually the Americans would be more interested in running the Koodankulam plant than shutting it down.
Only if the Koodakulam plant runs will they get a chance to honour the Indo-American nuclear deal.
In spite of India having a nuclear deal with the US, it is the French and the Russians who have got plants here, not the US. So they are upset and are sponsoring protests.
That is why my bank accounts have been verified twice. The accounts of the Tuticorin social service have been checked. Every church in this area has come under the scanner. They have frozen my bank accounts and my school trust accounts for two years. They have not found anything. They have analysed all my transactions.
They have concluded that I have received money from the Americans. It is a completely absurd statement. It is not based on facts.
What about your European donors and your German contact?
Sonntag Rainer is not my German contact. He is a friend I met in my hometown Nagercoil. When he first came to India someone had given him my address and he came and met me. He was a nature lover and joined our agitation against Koodankulam as a wellwisher. He used to stay in a very cheap hotel, he wasn’t rich.
Once in a while he used to come home and eat with us. He didn’t have money to give us, neither was he funneling money from Scandinavian countries to us as alleged by the IB.
One day, in February 2012, I was told that Rainer was being deported. Rainer did not give me any map. I know more about Indian nuclear activity than Rainer. He doesn’t need to tell me or show me where the nuclear installations are. So the news about maps on laptops is nonsense like everything else in their report.
All information is available on the internet or you can Google it. We don’t need Rainer. If he had really indulged in anti-India activities they should have put him in jail, not deported him. They knew they did not have a case to keep him in jail so they deported him. He has not been in touch with me after going back.
He was made an example for others. If you protest against the government you have had it. The government doesn’t like anyone finding fault with it or going against it. Activists are always prosecuted to stifle their voice in favour of the poor and weak.
Your agitation, though powerful, was finally a failure. You could not stop the plant and you could not get them to implement even one of the safety measures you suggested. Your agitation too has closed down.
The agitation has not stopped. Even now as we speak, there are 200 to 300 people sitting in the pandal at Idinthakarai. They are sitting in protest. The protest is not a failure, it is not over.
Yes, we have not been able to stall the plant but we never claimed that we would be able to stall it. We are fighting the monstrous State of India. We don’t have their access to taxes, technology or manpower. We don’t have their political power or anything like that.
Why are you calling the Indian government monstrous?
It is so huge. It doesn’t listen to people’s opinion anymore. They are more interested in pleasing their foreign masters and their corporate friends. They are not interested in the people of India.
You made these allegations against the Congress government which is no longer in power. You cannot say the same thing about the new government.
This government also favours foreign interests and multinational corporations. They want to ‘develop the country’ at the cost of local people and the environment.
So you think the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party are the same?
Both are two sides of the same coin. Both are equally corrupt, both are equally communal and anti-India.
You mean anti-India or anti-environment?
Anti-environment, anti-people and therefore anti-India. If you are pro-India you should support the people of India. You should value Indian life. You should give priority to Indian interests and not foreign interests.
When you start working for foreigners, making sure their agreements are honoured, making sure they make good profits, then you are anti-India.
One of the reasons the US has not come to India is the nuclear liability law. Are you not going to give credit to the government for framing that law?
They are now trying to bend that law to accommodate US interests. Just to get foreign funds they are finding loopholes in that law. Just look at defence procurements. Just look at FDI is so many sectors of the economy.
If you are interested in India’s interest in many of these sectors, these guys should not be allowed like defence, railways. They are a security threat in these sectors. Our interests should be protected and promoted.
You want weapons to be made by Indian companies?
I don’t believe in weapons. You give the people their basic amenities, you look after them properly. Now they have nothing, give them something worthwhile. Give them a good life. Then they will want to fight and defend their country. Now they have nothing to lose, they won’t fight and you need a mighty army with imported weapons to defend our borders. First look after the people and then look for weapons and the army.
You were earlier a national security threat, now you are a threat to the economy?
I am a threat to nuclear energy. I am a threat to the global nuclear industry. The governments of India, Russia, France and America are all together now. We are a threat to all of them. Their business interests are hurt. They are going to dump their outdated technology on the hapless people of India.
We point out their faults and so we are being targeted. Unfortunately some people in this country believe these stories. That is the irony of it.
This is becoming a threat to my life and to the security of my family.
How and why do you say that?
When they name me like this. When they call me an Indian a security threat for whatever reasons, it sends a wrong message to the wrong people. When I walk on the streets someone may say here goes a traitor and attack me. I might get killed. My school has been attacked twice. You know my people were attacked inside the Tirunelveli collector’s office in full view of the public.
If something happens to me the Intelligence Bureau and the Government of India are responsible. By maligning me and putting my life at risk.
There is a saying ‘give a dog a bad name then hang him’.
Exactly. That’s a very good proverb, very appropriate.