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Sunday, June 13, 2021

Explained: Akhil Gogoi gets bail to take oath as Assam MLA; this is why he’s in jail

In the recent assembly polls, Akhil Gogoi defeated BJP's Surabhi Rajkonwari by nearly 12,000 votes in the Sibsagar constituency, becoming the first from Assam to win an election from jail.

Written by Tora Agarwala , Edited by Explained Desk | Guwahati |
Updated: May 13, 2021 7:24:42 am
Akhil Gogoi Gogoi managed to win the election without hitting the campaign trail even once. (Express photo by Dasarath Deka/File)

On Tuesday, a special National Investigation Agency (NIA) court granted permission to jailed activist Akhil Gogoi to take oath as legislator of Assam Assembly. In the recent assembly polls, Gogoi defeated BJP’s Surabhi Rajkonwari by nearly 12,000 votes in the Sibsagar constituency, becoming the first from Assam to win an election from jail.

The 46-year-old has been in prison since December 2019, after the NIA booked him on charges of sedition and under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) following his alleged involvement in the violence during the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) protests in the state.

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When will Akhil Gogoi take oath?

Santanu Borthakur, Gogoi’s advocate, said the permission for Gogoi to attend the oath-taking ceremony was granted on Tuesday by the NIA court in Guwahati. The date for the oath-taking ceremony has not been announced yet. “He is effectively coming out just for the oath taking ceremony — and will be taken back into judicial custody after that,” Borthakur said.

In July 2020, Gogoi was admitted to the Gauhati Medical College and Hospital after testing positive for Covid-19. Following that, he has remained in the hospital because of other health issues.

What kind of activism is Gogoi known for?

Founder of the farmers’ body Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS), Gogoi has for long been agitating for the rights of peasants in Assam. He has also been vocal about land rights issues, evictions, big dam projects, among others, and has been arrested on several occasions over the years, both during the current BJP regime as well as during the Congress rule.

In December 2019, he emerged as one of the key faces of the anti-CAA protests in Assam, shortly after which he was arrested.

Late last year, the KMSS announced it was forming the political party Raijor Dol (which translates to People’s Party), with Gogoi as the president. The ideological line of the party is to be “politically federal, socially inclusive and economically self-reliant.” It was in alliance with another regional party, the Assam Jatiya Parishad, which also owes its origin to the anti-CAA protests.

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What are the charges against Gogoi? Has he been cleared in any?

Gogoi was first arrested on December 12, 2020 in Jorhat following an anti-CAA rally. His case was shifted to the NIA two days later and he was booked on charges of sedition and under provisions of the UAPA for allegedly being an overground worker of the banned CPI (Maoist).

Several cases were filed against Gogoi across police stations in towns across Assam (Sibsagar, Dibrugarh, Gaurisagar, Teok, Jorhat) following the violence— out of which two (Chandmari and Chabua) were taken over by the NIA.

Last month, he was cleared of the Chabua case when the Gauhati High Court upheld a special NIA court order, which was appealed by the central agency. The allegations against Gogoi in Chabua said that he had led a crowd of about 600 people, which caused “economic blockade”, “pelting of stones” and murder of a “police personnel on duty.”

However, the NIA case lodged in Chandmari police station still remains. In it, Gogoi has been booked under various charges including Sections 120B, 124A, 153B IPC and Sections 18 and 39 of the UAPA. “The bail plea was rejected by the Gauhati High Court in January and later, by the Supreme Court in February,” said Borthakur.

What was Gogoi’s election campaign like?

Gogoi had initially submitted nomination papers for two constituencies — Sibsagar and Mariani — for the elections. Later, it was decided he would be contesting only from Sibsagar.

Gogoi managed to win the election without hitting the campaign trail even once. “Our election campaign picked up speed in the last ten days before the polls,” said Bhasco De Saikia, chief convenor of Raijor Dal. The party workers campaigned using standees and photographs of Gogoi, who would write frequent letters from prison voicing his opinion on a number of issues.

“There was a sympathy factor that he was contesting from jail,” said Saikia, “Moreover, a lot of young people from different parts of Assam joined the campaign.”

A big boost to the campaign, Saikia said, was the involvement of Gogoi’s 84-year-old mother, Priyada. “Despite her age and ailments, she campaigned going from house to house and village to village, telling people to vote for her jailed son,” he said.

Why is Gogoi’s victory important?

This is the first time Gogoi plunged into electoral politics. However, as a student, he was elected as the general secretary of the Cotton College Student Union in 1995-1996. Gogoi won the elections by a comfortable margin from the Sibsagar seat— while he received 57,219 votes, BJP’s Surabhi Rajkonwari followed with 45,344 votes and Congress’s Subhamitra Gogoi got 19,329 votes.

Apart from the fact that he contested, campaigned and won from jail, Gogoi was the only candidate from newly-formed regional parties post CAA protests to have won a seat. According to Akhil Ranjan Dutta, who heads the Political Science Department at Gauhati University, Gogoi’s victory goes beyond CAA. “The vote for him should not be reduced to just anti-CAA sentiment because Gogoi, apart from being an anti-CAA voice, has been a voice of resistance on other issues: dams, corruption, land rights etc. He has been a voice of dissent on larger political issues,” he said, adding, “The vote is also against state atrocities on a regional voice. The way he has been imprisoned for one-and-a-half-years now — he drew sympathy all across society.”

After his victory, Gogoi wrote a letter thanking the people of Assam. He said he would address core issues of Assam as an MLA and would stand against all “anti-people, anti-national and anti-Assam” steps of the government.

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