Protests against commissioning the nuclear plant in Koodankulam over the last year has put the government in a spot many times over. The UPA government has seen several massive protests by local fishermen against the plant, which led to a standoff between the Union government and protesters. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in an interview to NDTV Science Editor Pallava Bagla for Science Magazine, reportedly alleged that the protests in Koodankulam were fuelled by US-based NGOs that didn’t appreciate the need for India to increase its energy supply. Singh’s statement has portrayed the People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy (PMANE) and its leaders as those who are working against the interest of the country in exchange for a few dollars. PMANE convener Dr. Udayakumar termed the PM’s statement as a malicious and baseless allegation against the poor fighting for justice. According to him, Singh has downgraded himself to the level of a third rate politician in his attempt to be street smart. Udayakumar told Tehelka that on behalf of PMANE, he would sue the PM for making wild allegations against the movement.

By Jeemon Jacob, Tehelka

 

SP Udayakumar, Coordinator, People's Movement Against Nuclear Energy

The Prime Minister said that the Koodankulam protests have been funded by US NGOs. What do you have to say?

It’s an absurd statement the Prime Minister has made against us. It’s false, malicious and baseless. By making such statements he is behaving like an irresponsible PM. He has become a disgrace to our country and the people. I would like to challenge the PM and demand him to provide details about the US NGO that provided money to the Koodankulam struggle. I also request him to reveal the names of the beneficiaries who had taken money from the foreign donor agencies to fuel protests. As PM, he has all the machinery to probe everything. While making an allegation, it’s his responsibility to reveal on what basis he is making it. If he has evidences against us, let him come up with evidences and take action. Instead, he is engaged in blackmailing tactics. Otherwise let him face the consequences for making wild allegations in a democratic country where everyone has the right to defend his honour.

What would be your next move?

We are going to sue him for making a defamatory statement in public. We will consult our lawyers and initiate legal steps immediately. We are poor people who are on protest for more than 10 years. Majority of our people are fishermen who have no other means of livelihood. They have joined the protests when their lives and livelihood are at stake. It was not funded by US NGOs or stage-managed by groups. People cutting across religion, caste, politics and status participated in the movement. How can a PM say that such movement is sponsored by foreign NGOs?

Have you received money from any foreign or local NGOs for organising the protests?

I want to set the record straight. We have not received even a paise from NGOs – foreign or Indian. If the PM has the evidence, I challenge him to make it public. He can conduct investigations and prosecute us. If he doesn’t have evidence, he should resign and offer a public apology. I’m with this movement since 2001. Our people were on hunger strike for more than a month. Entire coastal villages joined in the hunger strike because we were fighting for our lives. A PM who sold out our country to Americans when he was Finance Minister may not understand the spirit of the poor in suffering. A PM who allowed FDI in retail sector will never understand what a poor man needs for basic survival; a PM who thinks Russian nuclear energy would resolve all energy crisis in this country will never understand our struggle. He is conditioned to think like a parrot in the golden cage and sorry to say dummies neither live nor die – they just go in the history as dummies.

Earlier similar allegations were levelled against you and about the movement having foreign donors. In that sense the PM’s statement says nothing new.
It was none other than V. Narayanaswami, Minister of State in charge of Prime Minsiter’s Office who levelled an allegation that I’d received Rs.1.5 crore from a foreign NGO. I’ve filed a defamation case against him in Madras High Court and issued notice against him. In his reply, his lawyer had stated that he had never made such an allegation and it was the media misquoting him. So it’s a ploy by the Congress to destabilise and divide the movement. They think that by making wild allegations, they can kill our movement and commission the Kodankulam plant. That’s an illusion.

How do you run your movement without any financial support for a long time?

A good question. You don’t need money to run a movement when people are fighting for their cause. You don’t need PR or media management tactics to make a movement a great success. We had organised massive demonstrations in Koodankulam and Edanthikarai for more than month with less Rs. 2 lakh. You can verify our accounts and see the donations made by poor people. I would request you to read the books on freedom struggle or at least read My Experiments With Truth written by Mahatma Gandhi. Which corporate lobby funded the freedom struggle that was led by him? The PM or his media kids should read it at least once. It’s only then that they would learn how to make great movements for a cause. The lessons he had learnt as an economist are not good for this country but only for some corporate giants with hidden agendas.