"Iyyakannu has an Audi car and is committing fraud"
“His son is rich.”
"He has taken money from the bank and not paid back the loan."
"He has come to my house many times and stood for help."
"Fraud of the first order."
These are just few of the allegations that have been raised against Iyyakannu, the Tamil Nadu chief of the Desiya Thenidhiya Nathigal Inaippu Vivasayigal Sangam in the last three weeks.
These allegations against the farmer leading the agitations in New Delhi have been raised by many including by H Raja of the BJP. For the last 21 days, 80 farmers from TN’s Delta regions, led by Iyyakannu have been protesting at the Jantar Mantar against the Central Government's apathy towards them, in the time of a major drought in Tamil Nadu.
The News Minute caught up with the man, who has made the nation notice his agitation through ingenious methods of protest. He has demanded that the Central Government release the Rs. 39,000 crore that State Government has requested as drought relief. Speaking over the phone from the capital, he categorically stated that the allegations against him were false.
"I don’t have unpaid loans, tractors, disproportionate assets or Audi cars. I have 20 acres of land and last year I took a loan against 4 acres. Six to seven months back the Tamil Nadu Government waived loans taken from cooperative societies. But I filed a case in the Madurai High Court saying that I alone cannot be given this relief and to either annul or grant it to all farmers who have taken loans from banks," the 72-year old farmer told TNM. He added, “If they prove any of these allegations, I am ready to kill myself.”
While the allegations have been doing the rounds on messaging platforms and social media, BJP leaders have reiterated a few in the last couple of days.
"The BJP is furious that I met Rahul Gandhi at the protest. Tamilisai Soundararajan who is the Tamil Nadu BJP chief even went as far as saying that I am not a farmer," says Iyyakannu. "Leaders from all political parties have been coming here to meet us. Do they expect us to stop them? Congress is a national party and one of its top leaders came to meet me. So, I asked him to raise this issue in Parliament. If the BJP is such a nationalist party, then why is the Prime Minister not meeting us? We are being treated like terrorists who cannot be met," declares Iyyakannu.
As far as the nature of H.Raja's allegations are concerned, Iyyakannu claims the BJP leader called to apologise to him. "When he called on Saturday, I asked him how he can talk with such disrespect to me. He himself admitted that I neither have unpaid loans, tractors, disproportionate assets or Audi cars." the 72-year-old farmer says. Did H Raja promise to issue a public apology?
"He has apparently been receiving abusive calls ever since he tried to spread this lie. Unable to bear it anymore, he called and apologised. Raja promised to issue an apology on Monday and admit that he was lying," says Iyyakannu. But two days later, there has been no public apology or clarification from the BJP leader. "You can tell a human being that they have committed a mistake and help them change. But you cannot expect any kind of change from an animal or beast," the farmer says angrily.
But opposition to his protests, don't come from only political circles. From Tamil Nadu, several farmer’s associations have questioned the methods he has adopted, terming them 'drama'.
S Ranganathan, the septuagenarian president of Cauvery Delta Farmers Welfare Association, told The Pioneer, “This is for cheap publicity. We farmers are not beggars and alms seekers." The man who dragged Karnataka to the apex court over the refusal of sharing of Cauvery water said what Ayyakkannu and friends were doing was not fair or right. "There are some genuine problems but this is not the way to highlight the same,” said Ranganathan.
Farmer groups have further expressed doubt over his credentials as a farmer. "“At no point of time we have seen Iyyakkannu donning the role of a farmer. He is a lawyer making a giant kill over out of court settlements,” The Pioneer quotes Kattumannarkoil Kannan of the Cauvery Delta Farmers Welfare Association as saying.
Iyyakannu however is not deterred by the allegations that are mounting. "For the farmers protesting here, the situation is either win or die. We will stay here till our demands for drought relief is met with. All these comments have not affected our protests in any manner," Iyyakannu says. "On Monday, we will all be shaving one half of our moustaches, as the next sign of protest," he adds.