In Tamil Nadu, which has come to be known in the election season for its cash-for-votes mania and high levels of political corruption, Nallakannu and Kakkan stand for something different and old-fashioned. They are leaders without a blemish and have remained incorruptible’ in an age where corruption and politics in Tamil Nadu have become inseparable.
Nallakannu, 94, a freedom fighter, is a Communist Party of India leader. Kakkan. who is no more, was also a freedom fighter who served as a member of the Constituent Assembly, Member of Parliament, president of the Tamil Nadu Congress Committee and in various ministerial posts in Congress governments in the erstwhile Madras state between 1957 and 1967.
Both of them were in the news recently when the Tamil Nadu Housing Board (TNHB) suddenly informed their families to vacate their houses. Nallakannu was residing in the house for the past 12 years and Kakkan family’s longer.
Nallakannu was born at Srivaikuntam in Tamil Nadu’s Thoothukudi district. Since a young age, Nallakannu was part of the freedom movement and his association with the Communist Party began at the age of 15. Having spent his life in politics for more than eight decades, the ascetic leader now finds himself without a roof over his head.
Nallakannu had earlier refused even to accept the pension given by the government for freedom fighters. “I fought for my country’s freedom, that’s my duty. Why should the government pay me for that?” Nallakannu had said.
A month ago, during the elections, the police officials and the Election Flying Squad checked each and every vehicle passing on the highway to see if any unaccounted money was being transported in them. In the Pudukottai-Thanjavur highway, when the officials were involved in their duty, they stopped a car and found Nallakanu sitting inside the vehicle. Knowing the record of the veteran, the officials were reluctant to check. Nallakannu demanded that the officials follow the procedure, got his vehicle checked and left only after the officials confirmed they didn’t find anything suspicious.
During his 80th birthday, the CPI cadres gifted him a car and some hefty cash, which he politely refused and asked his party members to use that amount to help the poor.
The controversy could not have been more timely. During election season, it was a reminder to the old school of leaders that they do not matter much now. The issue was that on land that belongs to TNHB, situated in CIT Colony, T Nagar, Chennai, a total of 119 houses were constructed during the early 1950s and were allocated to the citizens on a rental basis. In 2007, during the regime of late Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Karunanidhi, Nallakannu was allocated a house in TNHB building. Despite the government asking him to live in this place for free, Nallakannu said he will stay in this place only if the government agrees to accept rent.
As years passed, the TNHB buildings got weaker and soon the parts of the tenements started to fell apart. Without expecting any help from the government, with his own money, Nallakannu did all the repair works for his house.
In 2011, after the houses were declared unfit for occupation, the board decided to demolish the buildings. The residents were given notices to vacate the place. However, the residents disagreed to the proposal and filed a petition in the court. The case between the residents and the TNHB went on for all these years as there were multiple petitions filed by both sides. On February 2019, the Madras High Court quashed their petitions and delivered a judgment in favour of TNHB.
Following the judgment, the residents including Nallakannu and the family of Kakkan were asked to vacate the house they had stayed all these years.
Speaking to Indianexpress.com, Nallakannu said: “First of all it’s not mandatory for a government to give a place for people who are in social service; I’m just an ordinary man. I’m just concerned about other residents. The government could have handled this whole issue in a better way. They (residents of TNHB) are living here for many years. Without any prior information, the board shouldn’t have acted this way. Yes, the building is old and they wanted to implement some new plan, but at least they could have informed us well in advance or given us more time to find a place,” Nallakannu added.
Being in politics for more than eight decades, Nallakannu said people shouldn’t feel surprised when a person is not corrupt, instead, they should be surprised only if they find a person corrupt. “People say these things, It comes from my grandmother who always educated me with these values. When Kakkan was the Home Minister of the state, he never enjoyed any benefits. In his last days, he didn’t have a single penny in his bank account, he lived like a ‘thyagi’. When you compare him, I am nothing,” he said.
The board’s eviction decision created outrage in Tamil Nadu. Several political leaders and social activists demanded the Tamil Nadu government to allocate a new house to the veteran leader and to the family of late Kakkan. Following the outcry, Chief Minister Edappadi K Palanisamy-led AIADMK government has agreed to provide them with new houses under the public quota.
The controversy put the focus again on leaders who were selfless, but with results around the corner, and with low attention spans, people could well fail to remember both Nallakannu and Kakkan.