The German seems to have been deported to give a face to the foreign hand supposedly funding anti-nuclear protests, writes Jeemon Jacob (Tehelka)

After a stormy night and a long flight, Sonntag Rainer Hermann, the German tourist deported from Chennai, reached Essen (near Dusseldorf) at 7 pm on 28 February. In response to TEHELKA’s emails, he wrote, “I travelled safe to my hometown. This is the first connection to the Internet. The last two nights I had no bed and I’m very tired now. So, please allow me some time to rest. I need some time to think.”

The Tamil Nadu Police deported the 49-year-old computer programmer on 27 February, accusing him of funding the anti-nuke protests in Koodankulam, where two Russian reactors are expected to add 900 MW of electricity to the Tamil Nadu grid, catering to at least four million people.

Worries about exposure to radiation were heightened after the 2011 Fukushima accident. Protests escalated, with about 3,000 people going on a relay fast.

However, a question often asked was why the locals did not protest sooner. And this is where the conspiracy theories — proof is still elusive — of foreign involvement begin. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said that Indian NGOs were getting funds from American and west European sources to obstruct the Russian-built plants.

And Hermann was deported for being one of the funders.

Strangely, he did not live a clandestine life. He was well known in Nagercoil as a regular tourist and a dedicated conservationist. People’s Movement against Nuclear Energy (PMANE) convener SP Udayakumar says he met Hermann eight years ago. “Rainer had amoebic dysentry and spent very little,” says Udayakumar. “He did participate in a protest organised by PMANE in New Delhi in 2007, but he has never funded or donated to support our struggle. I have not met him or spoken to him for the last one year.” He has no family, being unmarried, and having lost his mother recently.

The police picked up Hermann from Nagercoil based on a tip-off from the Intelligence Bureau. He was brought to Chennai, his tourist visa cancelled and he was deported. According to a senior police officer, the police also raided Ganga Tamil Nadu Hotel in Nagercoil, where the German was staying, and seized his laptop.

According to hotel manager Jayapal, Hermann checked in on 12 February. “Ours is a budget hotel that charges Rs 200 per day for a non-AC room,” says Jayapal. Hermann paid an advance of Rs 3,400.

RS Lal Mohan, a retired principal scientist from Indian Council of Agriculture Research and a conservationist, describes Hermann as “a poor tourist from Germany” who has been frequenting Nagercoil for many years.

When asked if Hermann could have funded the protest, Mohan is livid. “He was spending his retired life visiting cheap destinations like Nepal, Thailand and Laos. Even our fishermen can afford more luxuries. How can such a person fund the Koodankulam anti-nuke protest?”

Oddly enough, the police is also now denying Hermann’s role. “We don’t have information about his involvement in the Koodankulam protests,” admits Tirunelveli Police Commissioner V Varadaraju. “We were acting on information provided by the Central government.”

Meanwhile, the home ministry has blacklisted four NGOs, two of which are church-based non-profits, for violating FCRA rules. They are Tuticorin Multipurpose Social Service Society (TMSSS), Tuticorin Diocese Association (TDA), People’s Education for Action and Community Empowerment run by PMANE convener Udayakumar and Good Vision Charitable Trust run by PMANE political wing convener Mano Thangaraj.

TMSSS and TDA run by Tuticorin Bishop Yuvan Ambross received Rs 42 crore and Rs 23 crore respectively during the past five years. TDA’s audited statement of expenditure for 2009-10 reveals that the NGO received Rs 37.40 lakh from Germany and Rs 4.5 lakh from the US as aid.

“But we have not funded the Koodankulam protests with this foreign aid. The government has frozen our bank accounts and is trying to terrorise us with motivated campaign against the church,” says Father William Santhanam, spokesperson of the Tuticorin diocese.

Jeemon Jacob is Bureau Chief, South with Tehelka.
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