Activist for Many Causes: Akhil Gogoi Now Arrested for Sedition
Gogoi has taken up a number of causes ranging from exposing PDS scams to campaigning against the building of dams.
As an activist who has rallied against state corruption using the Right to Information (RTI) provision and fought for peasant rights over the last two decades, Assam’s Akhil Gogoi has invited the wrath of authorities many a time, the latest being the sedition charges being slapped against him for a speech made on 12 September in which he allegedly instigated a gathering of people to take up arms, specifically AK-47s, against the state government.
Gogoi’s speech opposed the contentious Citizenship Bill 2016 pursued by the BJP government, which was said to be “communal”. The Bill mandates that non-Muslim migrants from neighbouring countries would be granted Indian citizenship if they have lived in India for at least six years.
Apart from referring to this Bill, Gogoi also lamented the lack of constitutional safeguards for the indigenous people.
Last year in October, Gogoi was arrested when he took part in a protest against eviction of people close to Assam’s Kaziranga National Park. This was followed by a detainment in December when he led a demonstration against the Assam Public Service Commission, which he said was involved in a “cash-for-job” scam.
From Anti-Corruption to Displacement of Locals: Causes Taken up by Gogoi
Born in 1976 in Assam’s Jorhat, Gogoi’s public activism began from his college days. He was associated with an CPI-ML affiliated organisation called ‘United Revolutionary Movement Council of Assam’ — led by naxalite Santosh Rana — in the 1990s.
During the course of his activism, Gogoi has taken up a number of causes, especially concerning his home state, ranging from exposing scams in the Public Distribution System and National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) to campaigning against building of dams putting the livelihoods of indigenous people at risk.
To take up the cause of peasants, Gogoi’s established the Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS) in 1995.
Starting 2009, Gogoi has led a major protest against NHPC’s 2,000 MW Subansiri Lower Hydroelectric Power Project, which gained considerable attention especially when the KMSS blocked roads in 2011 to stop building equipment from reaching the site of the dam.
Apart from campaigning against corruption in Assam, Gogoi was also associated with Anna Hazare and the widely-popular India Against Corruption (IAC) movement.
But, when Arvind Kejriwal launched a political party, he eventually distanced himself from the movement.
Gogoi’s activism over the course of two decades earned him the Manjunath Shanmugam Integrity Award in 2008, followed by a National RTI award (under Public Cause Research Foundation) in 2010.
Irking the Congress and the BJP
Having been active during the reign of both the Congress and the BJP, Gogoi’s activities have irked both the parties.
A “secret” police report, which surfaced in 2010, referred to Gogoi — along with independent MLA Bhutan Pegu and development activist Ravindran Nath — as a “Maoist”.
This was rebutted by Gogoi, as he was quoted by media reports as saying:
Yes, I am a Marxist and I believe in social transformation. But, I am not a Maoist. There has been a gameplan of the government to stop me from campaigning for the rights of the farmers and exposing corruption. The authorities are so annoyed… that a plot was hatched last year to even eliminate me.Akhil Gogoi
He asked the government to “take punitive action against the police office” if the charges against him were not proved.
Assam’s former Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi, who was accused by Gogoi of buying a property worth Rs 18 crore in the US, had also reiterated the activist’s “Maoist links” during his tenure.
But not all criticism of Akhil Gogoi has come from the government. In 2016, four of Gogoi’s associates, including KMSS convenor Kamal Medhi, had a fallout with him.
Akhil Gogoi conspires against anyone who criticises him, and members of KMSS have often provided wrong information to the peopleKamal Medhi, KMSS convenor, in 2016
Like he did during the Congress regime, Gogoi is vigorously opposing policies and agendas of the current dispensation. One of the decisions that he has criticised recently has been the renaming of several government colleges after RSS ideologue Deen Dayal Upadhaya at the behest of state Education Minister Himanta Biswa Sharma.
However, his activism continues to attract action against him. Following the activist’s arrest, the current Chief Minister of Assam, Sarbananda Sonowal, was quoted by Indian Express as saying:
The government has learnt about the alleged nefarious design of anti-social elements trying to foment trouble to disturb the social harmony of our state… The government is prepared to defeat such forces with appropriate actions.
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