DOES political power drive electrical power or is it the other way round? Absurd as it may sound ask any ordinary resident of energy-strapped Lahore or Delhi and they will likely acknowledge a palpable nexus between the two colluding and sometimes mutually hostile realities that shore up a citizen’s daily life.
The link between the two can in fact be framed in a slogan. Give me blood and I will give you freedom, said Indian freedom fighter Subhash Bose. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh seems to have spun his own mantra, which says: give me energy, preferably nuclear energy, and I will continue to claim unbridled political power.
It is another story that Gandhi’s non-violent method demolished the youthful exuberance of Bose just as his assiduous aversion of consumerism, one pursuit that Gandhi could only be applauded for, would lay low Dr Singh’s galloping ambition for a myopic idea of a happy India.
Across the border, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani should have read the lovely instructive story on Dawn’s website on how more and more Pakistanis are turning to environment-friendly solar energy to meet their basic needs.
Instead, he found himself holding forth at the Seoul nuclear summit on the merits of nuclear power. Never mind that Fukushima was a short flight away from Seoul, but there were this unique South Asian twosome, representing self-styled nuclear weapons states, if that has done them any good, begging the world for nuclear energy.
No surprises there, though I am not sanguine that Mr Gilani would go to the extent of fudging a vote in his parliament to pursue the obsession with nuclear power, not that Pakistan’s National Assembly is brimming with men or women of insight and reason to challenge what is tantamount to a neo-liberal idea of progress in developing countries.
For the record, Mr Singh’s party stands accused of bribery to win a parliamentary vote to push for laws that would invite foreign nuclear plant vendors to set up shop in India on ridiculously adverse terms.
The South Korean president, the summit’s strange choice for a host, meanwhile, beat back thousands of protesters against his pursuit of nuclear power units, both to increase domestic capacities and for sale abroad. President Obama, coming from a country that had all but disowned manufacturing of nuclear energy plants after the Three Mile Island disaster in 1979, was in attendance, not bereft of obvious double standards to cheer the contenders.
It is clear that the urbanite South Asian has abandoned the simple contraptions like the wind towers of yore, the thatched insulations, high ceilings and commonsensical ventilation as passé. Their preference for desert coolers, which run on scarce electricity and scarcer water, is heartrending.
Far higher-energy-consuming air conditioners are the new metaphors of the so-called development drive in the tropics of South Asia. Fuel-guzzling cars are another fetish. Pakistan should invite my fellow journalist and anti-nuclear activist Praful Bidwai to showcase his battery-run two-seater car, not that it has inspired many in Delhi to heed his obvious advice.
While everyone stands to benefit from a steady supply of affordable electricity, the obsession with power generation and its many uses at any cost is characterised by a class divide. There is also a clear rural-urban hiatus. In a way the divide exists between the larger neo-liberal development strategy and how it is received by the poor.
Why should the poor people of Singur, for example, vacate their land in West Bengal to make way for an Indonesia-based investor to make it an industrial hub? Why should the people of Singur in the same state be evicted from their homes so that mini cars could be assembled there? People could do with mass transport, yes, but cars…?
Delhi has more cars, an increasing number of them guzzlers, than Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata put together. Even the supposedly people-sensitive Left Front missed the point and it paid for it.
In Maharashtra, in India, the massive Jaitapur Nuclear Power Project is the focus of concern — 931 hectares (2,300 acres) of farmland will be needed to build the reactors, land that is now home to 10,000 people, their mango orchards, cashew trees and rice fields — and it has attracted many protests. Fishermen in the region say their livelihoods will be wiped out. Protests have escalated in the wake of the Fukushima tragedy. Will the people win against the state’s machinations and accompanying corporate media hype?
Thousands of protesters and villagers living around the Russian-built Koodankulam Nuclear Power Plant in the southern Tamil Nadu state were blocking highways until the state government began a violent crackdown last week after supporting them initially. Prime Minister Singh has accused the protesters of being foreign agents. The people have accused him of being an IMF plant.
What is shocking in this standoff is that a Russian report has questioned the safety of nuclear power plants even as the Indian government, led by the prime minister, swears by them.