The prime minister said that the Koodankulam protests are funded by US-based NGOs. What do you have to say?
It’s an absurd, false, malicious and baseless statement. By making such statements, he is behaving like an irresponsible PM. He has become a disgrace to our country. I would like to challenge the PM and demand him to provide details about the US-based NGOs that provided money to the Koodankulam struggle. I also request him to reveal the names of those who took money from the foreign donor agencies to fuel protests. If he has any evidence against us, let him come up with it and take action. Instead, he is engaging in blackmailing tactics. Otherwise let him face the consequences of making wild allegations in a democratic country where everyone has the right to defend his honour.
What will 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 as their lives and livelihood are at stake. It was not funded by US-based NGOs or stage-managed by groups. People cutting across religion, caste, politics and status participated in the movement.
Have you received money from any foreign or local NGOs for organising the protests?
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. If he doesn’t, then he should resign and offer a public apology. I have been with this movement since 2001. Our people were on hunger strike for more than a month. Entire villages joined 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 will never understand what a poor man needs for basic survival; a PM who thinks nuclear plants will resolve all energy crises will never understand our struggle.
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 Narayanaswamy, Minister of State in charge of the Prime Minister’s Office, who levelled an allegation that I’d received Rs 1.5 crore from a foreign NGO. I filed a defamation case against him in Madras High Court and issued a 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 Koodankulam plant. That’s an illusion.
How do you run your protest without any financial support?
You don’t need money to run a movement when people are fighting for their cause. You don’t need PR or media managers to make a movement a great success. We had organised massive demonstrations in Koodankulam and Idanthikarai for more than a month with less than 2 lakh. You can verify our accounts and see the donations made by poor people. I request you to read the books on freedom struggle. Which corporate lobby funded the struggle led by Mahatma Gandhi? 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.
Jeemon Jacob is Bureau Chief, South with Tehelka.