The Otherside of the River

Tamil Nadu Boiling

Sandeep Banerjee

While the Tamil Nadu farmers camping in Delhi withdrew their agitation-demonstration on their 41st day and were preparing for their return journey, in Chennai top level ‘opposition’ leaders (DMK, CPI, CPIM, IUML, and two more) were busy in negotiating for a Tamil Nadu Bandh, naturally for the ‘causes’

of the farmers, demanding redressal of farmers’ plight. Tamil Nadu is unfortunate at this moment, missing two seasons of rains during the ‘retreating monsoon’ periods in last two years, and facing drought. Farmers naturally demand government help, particularly regarding their debt.

This is the widely believed and circulated reason behind the farmers’ agitation demonstration in Delhi for nearly six weeks at Jantar Mantar. And this time the demonstration by the camping 88 farmers was really spectacular in the sense that by display of some queerperformances – holding dead rats by teeth one day, then putting grass in their mouths another day, someday doing angapradakshinam, someday parading naked and what not.

Chennai Filmi Glitterati flew to Delhi and met the farmers, expressed their sympathy and took their messages to ministers; another day people saw DMK top brass there expressing support.... And lastly CM himself came and negotiated. Farmers could meet finance minister Jaitley. And they were demanding that PM Modi meet them. Really awe inspiring; seldom do ‘farmers’ or peasants meet that luck. The social media was ablaze: how distressed Indian farmers are, they are committing suicide, they are not getting food, eating rats, grasses... how ill-fated farmers are... and how cruel is the government; it is not even showing any sympathy, not granting loan waiver for the drought hit farmers! Even students of IIT-Madras protested; a few of them observed 2-days fast!

Who were demonstrating? Every report or post said – ‘farmers from Tamil Nadu’. But nobody bothered to find the ‘organisation’ that staged the ‘event’. “Desiya Thenninthiya Nathigal Inaippu Vivasayigal Sangam” or Nation South-Indian River Linking Farmers’ Organisation is the name of the farmers’ group. And their leader is P Ayyakannu. The very name tells that this group spearheads the demand for River Inter-linking – that bizarre dream-project of late President Abdul Kalam. Most environmentalists are against this ‘unnatural’ or anti-nature project and warned against that. BJP leaders, many of them, support that project – to them and every neo-lib-con person a river is a natural resource naturally to be harnessed and utilised/exploited for the economy. Slowly they are bushing for it. The point is – while sympathising with the said ‘farmers’ should one not mention that people are against river inter-linking? And another point – should people not look into the history of the organisation and its leadership to have an idea regarding what they are up to? Mr P Ayyakannu is or was a renowned legal practitioner. He fought general election with a Congress (Indira) ticket in 1977, but could not get elected. He later moved to Janata Dal. And not long ago he was in the farmers' wing of the BJP, he became its Deputy head. But after BJP came to power he was instructed not to do any move that might embarrass the Modi govt at centre. Being keen on moving with certain demands he was not ready to draw any boundary line in his moves, and quitting BJP’s Kisan Sangh, he made this new platform: Nation South-Indian River Linking Farmers’ Organisation. He is doing farming on his 25 acre (or 10 hectare) land after taking retirement from legal practice.

 If one looks into Chennai newspapers one shall see that the Chennai High court ruled in favour of total loan waiver for the drought hit fermers and ordered the government to do that. Judges, advocates, court staff and all were in praise of Mr P Ayyakannu, who was fighting for this demand, on the roads and also in the court. If one goes to more back issues of the newspapers one shall find a quizzical info-TN govt waived loan for drought-hit farmers. So, what is the difference? TN govt waived loan for marginal and small farmers, while Mr P Ayyakannu demanded waiving of ALL loans of ALL farmers. One may remember that govt loan waivers for farmers works for loans taken from banks, and not undocumented loans from money-lenders etc.

In truth the TN farmers’ stir in Delhi was demanding loan waivers only for 8.3% of farming households working on 39.4% of land.

Another demand that they raised in Delhi was regarding more water from Cauvery. Everybody knows the intricacy of this dispute involving inter-state bitterness.

But if one really looks for future, keeping in mind this climate change, irregularisation of rainfall pattern and rhythm, one should study rice cultivation with less water. The SRI system of rice needs much less water or almost no use of standing-water. Then there is the mulching method which Masanobu Fukuoka discussed some 40-50 years back. In several studies done by agricultural experts, several of them working in govt service, it is amply clear that mulching really works. Should one not focus on such type of cultivation instead of quarrelling over water which mankind did for thousands of years!

Vol. 49, No.45, May 14 - 20, 2017