The Tamil Nadu Cabinet's decision to allow the resumption of work on the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project has created understandable euphoria in the nuclear establishment, consternation among traditional opponents of nuclear power and a sense of relief to industry, which has been hit hard by chronic power shortages. At no point of time in the past few months, during which work had been halted in deference to fears voiced by the local population, was there any indication that the State government had ideological objections to nuclear energy. Rather, it was always a question of engaging the people and convincing them about the safety features of the Russian reactors. The political import of thrusting a decision on unready villagers can be judged from the fact that Chief Minister Jayalalithaa assured them their fears would be addressed, got the work halted for a few months to give time to experts and political representatives to engage the people and, finally, got an Assembly by-election out of the way before clearing the commissioning of the project. There was growing unease in the higher echelons of the Union government that the delay was proving costly. Russia, too, had begun voicing concern that its engineers and other personnel were twiddling their thumbs as domestic political developments were allowed to run their full course.
However, nothing in the progression of events over the past few months can justify the police crackdown on protesters near the project site almost in parallel with the Cabinet's decision, and the arrest of those engaged in peaceful agitation. If engaging the protesters was a task the government had taken on itself during this time, little would have been lost in making an effort to convey the final decision to them properly. The aim should have been to convince them about the necessity of the project and get them to withdraw their agitation. Yet, without even any pretence of dialogue or a rudimentary attempt to get the peaceful protest withdrawn, the police moved in with a massive show of might. Already, an avoidable sideshow to the months-long Kudankulam confrontation was witnessed in recent days because of the Centre's campaign of vilification against non-government organisations and groups involved in the agitation. Having decided that the Kudankulam project will go on, it is now up to the State government to ensure that fears over its safety subside and that the situation does not cascade into a full-blown confrontation between project proponents and committed antagonists who may never be convinced by the most reasonable of intermediaries but whose right to protest peacefully must not be curtailed or criminalised in any way.