Updated: March 11, 2021 10:46:25 pm
On Monday, jailed peasant leader Akhil Gogoi submitted nomination papers for two constituencies — Sibsagar and Mariani — for the coming Assembly elections in Assam. Later, it was decided he would be contesting only from Sibsagar. In a statement, Gogoi’s party Raijor Dal said it was “sacrificing” Mariani seat in the larger interest of defeating the BJP. Gogoi, in jail since December 2019, is currently under treatment at the Gauhati Medical College Hospital.
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Akhil Gogoi’s importance
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 2019, he emerged as one of the key faces of the anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) protests in Assam, shortly after which he was booked by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) on charges of sedition. On December 12, 2019, he was charged under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and has been in jail since.
Late last year, the KMSS announced it was forming the political party Raijor Dol, with Gogoi as the president. The party is in alliance with another regional party, the Assam Jatiya Parishad, which also owes its origin to the anti-CAA protests.
The Sibsagar seat
Sibsagar (in Sivasagar district) is located in Upper Assam, which was at the heart of the anti-CAA protests. As part of the larger Ahom belt, the region is identified with indigenous Assamese population.
Sibsagar, as well as Mariani, the other seat from where Gogoi filed his nomination, are Congress strongholds. While Sibsagar had been represented by Pranab Kumar Gogoi from 2001 onwards (he died in February 2020), Rupjyoti Kurmi (from the tea tribe community) has won three successive terms from Mariani since 2006.
Incidentally, the decision to not contest from Mariani comes after Gogoi attacked the Congress over its alliance with the AIUDF. He had urged all opposition parties to come together to field joint candidates against the BJP in all seats.
The Raijor Dal leader hopes to cash in on the anti-CAA sentiment in the region. Sibsagar, in fact, was where Gogoi addressed his last huge public rally, on December 11, 2019, before he was arrested.
Incidentally, Prime Minister Narendra Modi held the BJP’s land patta distribution programme here in February, his first visit to Assam in the run-up to the elections. It was seen as an overture to indigenous voters to calm the anti-CAA anger.
Mariani had earlier been chosen by the Raijor Dal as Gogoi’s native village Lekharukhon Gaon falls in the constituency. It also has a mixed population — apart from Assamese, there are Bengalis, tea tribes and Muslims. Over the years, the KMSS has worked extensively for the rights of these groups, with Gogoi leading Bhoomi Patta Andolans for landless communities, including tea tribes.
He also rallied for local people caught up in the border dispute between Assam and Nagaland (Mariani is located on the border).
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