Chennai, Sept. 16: S.P. Udayakumar, spearhead of the Kudankulam protests, is apparently moving to a different village every day to evade the police while the demand for his arrest gets shriller.
He has not appeared before TV cameras or at protest venues since going into hiding on Wednesday. His mobile is switched off, and he speaks only to his closest confidants from other phone numbers, a member of his inner circle said.
The man who had become the face and voice of the anti-nuclear protests over the past one year was a notable absence when villagers organised their Jal Satyagraha by standing in the sea on Thursday. It was the first time the 53-year-old former English teacher had missed a protest that invited wide media coverage.
On Saturday, he chose to address protesters, gathered in front of St Lourde’s Church at Idinthakarai near Kudankulam, over a mobile phone. His speech was relayed through the public address system.
Udayakumar went underground after the police made it clear they were going to arrest him for last Monday’s protests. That day, he had tried to lay siege to the nuclear plant along with 4,000 people, leading to a police crackdown and the death of a protester in firing.
On Tuesday, Udayakumar had offered to surrender after the police filed cases against him and four frontline organisers on charges such as inciting violence and waging war against the nation. But he was apparently dissuaded by supporters, who whisked him away in a boat on Wednesday.
“If the police’s lathi-charge and tear-gassing of villagers was an extreme step, this move by the authorities to hunt down the movement’s leaders is taking it to a crass level,” alleged a friend of Udayakumar.
Agitation supporters cite how the police picked up Satish, a Chennai-based activist, when he tried to drum up support for the movement among college students.
Officers, however, point out that although 300-odd cases have been filed over the years against Udayakumar for violating prohibitory orders and conducting public meetings without permission, this is the first time they have sought to arrest him.
“He crossed the line by getting the villagers to lay siege to the plant and planning to gatecrash into the facility. We have recordings of his phone conversations to prove his real designs,” a senior officer said.
“Since every nuclear facility is a high-security area, the CISF will shoot a trespasser first and ask questions later. He would have turned the villagers into unsuspecting targets of gunfire once they had breached the outer perimeter. That is why we had to disperse them with tear gas and a lathi-charge, and have had to go looking for Udayakumar.”