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Who is P. Ayyakannu?

LiveMint logoLiveMint 11-04-2017 Dharani Thangavelu

Chennai: Scores of farmers from Tamil Nadu, who have been camping in New Delhi for nearly a month demanding a waiver of loans and setting up of the Cauvery Management Board among other relief measures, took their protest to a new level with some of them stripping outside the Prime Minister’s Office on Monday.

Tamil Nadu is facing its worst drought in the last 140 years, and the man leading the agitation is 68-year-old farmer and lawyer P. Ayyakannu from Tiruchirappalli.

Ayyakannu has led a lot of protests across Tamil Nadu over the years. He has also helped wage legal battles for farmers’ rights. One such campaign recently led the Madras high court to order the Tamil Nadu government to waive farm loans taken out by all farmers, irrespective of the size of their land holding. The court also instructed the state to ensure that no penal action or loan recovery is initiated against the farmers.

While delivering the order last week, the bench consisting of Justices S. Nagamuthu and M.V. Muralidharan said: “We record our appreciation of the association president P. Ayyakannu, who has fought for the voiceless farming community of the state.”

As the founder and state president of Desiya Thenninthiya Nathigal Inaippu Vivasayigal Sangam (National South Indian River Interlinking Agriculturist Association), Ayyakannu who is also a farmer from Musiri in Tiruchirappalli has adopted some novel ideas in his protests.

The farmers led by Ayyakannu have been eating rats, conducting mock funerals, blowing conches, rolling on the ground half naked, shaving their heads and protesting with the skulls of farmers who allegedly committed suicide.

Ayyakannu, whose wife and two sons are advocates too, was initially part of the RSS-affiliated Bharatiya Kisan Sangh and served as its state deputy general secretary. When the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power in 2014, Ayyakannu continued his protests against the central government. He quit he Bharatiya Kisan Sangh and founded his own association for farmers.

Ayyakannu also contested from Musiri as a Janata Party candidate in the 1977 assembly election and finished fourth.

One of the main demands that Ayyakannu has been pressing for the last few years is for the implementation of the minimum support price for crops at 50% higher than the cost of cultivation, as per the recommendations of the M.S. Swaminathan Committee. “If this (minimum support price) is implemented, we wouldn’t ask for any waiver or other benefits. This will automatically solve all the problems,” says Ayyakannu.

The BJP is clearly unhappy with Ayyakannu. H. Raja, national secretary of the BJP, called him a “fraud”. On Monday, Raja tweeted: “Ayyakannu and others should be arrested and removed before the agitation becomes more ugly.”

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