When his father Mahiban Victoria, 85, died in Tuticorin in December, the only way M Pushparayan could see him one last time was on Facebook. He was 100 km from home, but could not step out of Idinthakarai village as it could have led to his arrest and affected the protest he was leading against the Kudankulam nuclear project.
On Saturday, Pushparayan did step out of Idinthakarai for the first time in over two years. He submitted his nomination from Tuticorin as an AAP candidate. Two other leaders of the People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy (PMANE), S P Udayakumar and M P Jesuraj, too, filed their papers from Kanyakumari and Tirunelveli.
According to Peter Milton, one of the leaders of the protest, the last time they enjoyed similar freedom was in March 2012, just after the result of a bypoll was announced. The AIADMK government had tacitly supported the protest till then, firing from its shoulders against the Congress. After the election results, it changed its position in favour of the plant, and the police began cracking down on the protesters.
In all, 358 cases have been filed against 2.26 lakh people and, despite a Supreme Court direction to withdraw these, protesters fear arrest if they step out of the village that has been cordoned off by police personnel” “But now a Supreme Court order Friday restrained police from taking any action against us,” Milton said.
The agitation has transformed from a siege of the plant into a siege upon themselves. The plant being a sensitive installation, Idinthakarai next to Kudankulam was chosen as the venue. But when the authorities turned against the protest, the police cordon ensured no one left. The agitation was restricted to a small area close enough to see work going on at the plant, but too far to cause any disruption.
The agitators believe they have a chance in Kanyakumari and Tuticorin. As per their claims, a majority of the fishermen community, numbering about 2.60 lakh in Kanyakumari and 1.82 lakh at Tuticorin, will vote for these leaders.