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‘We didn’t flash guns, we fought democratically’

People in power called them anti-national and a few even called them mad for their strange protests, but, the success of the Opposition-led strike on Tuesday in support of farmers has proven that there was a method in their madness.

‘We didn’t flash guns, we fought democratically’
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Tamil Nadu farmers led by P Ayyakannu (Person wearing the glasses)

Chennai

They are the dozens of Tamil Nadu farmers led by P Ayyakannu, who had garnered the nation’s attention for 41 days. Arriving at the Chennai Central by train, contrary to social media theories that they were put on a flight by patrons, the 72-year-old farmer-advocate (Ayyakannu) says how they were threatened and (ill) treated by political parties, while being embraced by people. 

In this freewheeling chat with DTNext, Ayyakannu says he believes the government would deliver.

Despite fighting for 41 days, you have returned without meeting the Prime Minister. What, do you think, prevented Narendra Modi from meeting you? 

We are disappointed. Unlike the jallikattu legislation, which does not affect the government, our demands, if fulfilled, will cost Rs 2 lakh crore to the state exchequer. The government is waiving corporate loans for several lakhs of crores because the ruling party would get money during elections. It will use the money to buy farmers’ votes. That is why Modi’s BJP promised and obliged Uttar Pradesh farmers. Of the Rs 21 lakh crore budget, only Rs 40,000 crore has been allocated to farmers in India, whereas corporates get over Rs 20 lakh crore. They have included Rs 8 lakh crore loan target as budgetary allocation. The loans never reach us. Chief Minister Edappadi K Palanisamy and Union Minister Pon Radhakrishnan have assured us that they would fulfill our demands. We are hopeful. That is why we suspended the protest for a month.

You were accused of taking it (protest) beyond limits, particularly the urine drinking protest? 

Government did not respect us. We wanted to expose its deception to the people. Government turned us into barbarians, making us wear leaves and strip. We wanted to express how the Centre tortured us. Despite Supreme Court order, Centre neither made Karnataka release water to us nor did it constitute Cauvery Management Board. In a democratic country, it is Prime Minister’s duty to meet us. Refusing to meet us is fascism. What else could we do? We had to fight for our rights. We did not flash guns or throw bombs. We fought democratically.

BJP leaders have repeatedly asked why you did not agitate against state government. Some BJP leaders had even advised you to emulate UP and get all loans waived by the state govt… 

Our initial protests were only in Tamil Nadu. It continued for 15 days. State government was not ready to even declare TN a drought-hit state. Only then did we decide to move to Delhi. The state government has already waived Rs 6,139 crore. We want the loans availed from nationalised banks waived.

Your critics questioned your motives, even calling you a luxury sedan-owning rich landlord who instigated farmers… 

They may say whatever they like. I own 20 acres. I sought loan for 4 acres. It was denied, which I have challenged in the court. The case is still pending. Whether it is drought or flood, it affects both small and large farmers. Loss is same for all. A strong sentiment has been stirred among farmers. Youth in Delhi, particularly Tamils, brought us food and essentials. Without them we would not have endured it for so long. They made these zeroes (farmers) heroes. We are confident that people’s pressure would make the government give it.

Did you wonder at least once, in the last 41 days, if it would be wise to float a political party on your own instead of relying on parties that let you down always?

No. I don’t want to enter politics. I am 72. What would I do in politics at this age. I want to fight for the livelihood of farmers. I will gladly die in a prison. 

Why didn’t Chief Minister K Palanisamy or other ministers take you to meet the PM? 

Minister Pon Radhakrishnan always asked us to vacate Jantar Mantar. He said the PM would grant us an audience only if we left Delhi. Police had even threatened us, but for continuous media coverage, we could not have sustained the protest. Now it is up to the CM and Radhakrishnan to honour their promises, including an audience with PM.

What if the governments go back on their words after a month? It would not be easy to regroup and protest in Delhi again… 

We will move the Supreme Court. Again, we are not doing anything unlawful. We will fight for our rights. We have commenced a statewide tour to meet farmers. We will cover all districts in a month.

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