Ever since I came to Idinthikarai, I have been looking for SP Udaykumar, the man who has been leading the movement. He has tremendous support from the people and is fondly called the people's leader.
Soon after my arrival, I was informed that Udaykumar was not in Idinthikarai for security reasons. After slapping hundreds of cases against him including sedition, a local court has now issued a non-bailable warrant for his arrest. He has been called anti-Indian and has been accused of receiving funds from foreign countries simply because he has been supporting the people and leading the protest against the Koodankulam nuclear project.
The local people are very passionate about their support for him. They claim that they would rather die than let Udaykumar get arrested. One fisherman told me that it was Udaykumar who showed them how to protest peacefully and it's a record that there has been no damage to any property or vehicles till now.
At around 12.30 pm I met Milton who is currently heading the protest in Idinthikarai. After a casual chat I requested him to take me to meet Udaykumar. As a reference I told him to mention that I was also here in March. He communicated it to Udaykumar and I got permission to meet him!
A bike was arranged for me, and we set off through lonely roads, frequently crossing windmills. After a while we reached the place and I could see Udaykumar surrounded by few of his close supporters and media people.
He greeted me in his ever confident voice, "Welcome Ali, have you had lunch?" he asked. I said no and he invited me to join him for lunch. A close aide of his described to me how they are living these days and the support they get from people all across. After a couple of interviews with the local media, we all went into the room to have lunch.
I started the conversation saying, "Congratulations Udaykumar, you have got tremendous love and support from your people." He smiled and replied, "Do I really deserve the support?"
During lunch I told him about the difficulties I faced to reach Idinthikarai as cab drivers refused to take me to the area saying it's dangerous. He replied that it is a misconception that people of the movement are dangerous and violent. They are in fact peaceful and friendly. He added that it is a tactic being played by the anti-movement side to give a bad image to the peaceful protesters. After lunch I had an interview with him for about 10 minutes mostly on nuclear energy in India and the current on-ground situation.
It was time for me to leave after the interview and I asked him what message he would like to pass on to people across the country, especially youngsters. He said that anti-nukes protestors are also very much Indians, so then why are they receiving such a bad treatment from the authorities? Further, he said that though it is a tough time for the movement the people are united and in spite of all the police atrocities they will continue to protest peacefully.
I left the place thinking how calm and confident he was during the interview, always replying with a smile. I wish him all the strength to continue with his peaceful protest to ensure that the life and livelihood of the people in Kudankulam remains safe always.
Ali Abbas is covering the ground realities of the anti-nuclear protests in Koodankulam. All image/images have been taken by Ali Abbas.