On December 17, a special National Investigation Agency court granted the agency 10 days’ custody of Assam peasant leader and Right to Information activist Akhil Gogoi.
The immediate cause for his arrest, the police said, was his role in the recent protests in Assam against the Citizenship Amendment Act. The act, which makes undocumented non-Muslim migrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan eligible for Indian citizenship, was passed in Parliament on December 11. It triggered immediate protests in Assam, some of which turned violent.
But the police also claimed that they had been getting inputs for a while “that Akhil Gogoi, his associates and some unidentified persons have been working in close coordination with Maoists trying to spread the Maoist functioning in the state of Assam”.
The activist has been booked under Section 120 B (punishment of criminal conspiracy), 124 A (sedition), 153 A (unlawful association) and 153 B (imputations, assertions prejudicial to national-integration) of the Indian Penal Code and Section 18/39 (punishment for conspiracy) of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act.
The first information report also names three associates from the organisation he founded and heads: the Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti.
Later in the day, Assam Finance Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma held a news conference where suggested that it was Gogoi who had instigated protestors to indulge in violence.
Over the years, Gogoi has had several run-ins with the state government. Months after the BJP came to power in the state in April 2016, Gogoi spent over 70 days behind bars after the police charged him with inciting violence during an eviction drive near the Kaziranga National Park. In September 2017, he was charged with sedition.
Under the Congress state government which preceded the current dispensation, Gogoi was arrested a number of times on a range of charges. In 2010, an intelligence report by the Assam police accused Gogoi of having links with Maoists. At the time, he had insisted he was a “Marxist, but not a Maoist”.
On Tuesday afternoon, as a visibly battered Gogoi waited for the judge to decide on the security agency’s plea for custody, he spoke to Scroll.in inside the courtroom. Excerpts from the conversation:
The police have accused you of Maoist links and trying to spread Maoism in Assam. What do you have to say?
It’s totally false. I have never been with Maoists, am not with them and will never be with them in the future. It’s a ploy to delegitimise the people’s upsurge and derail the movement. This has been done to alienate the progressive elements of the movement and destroy it.
The police claim you were behind the violence that hit Guwahati on December 11 and 12. How would you respond to that?
During that period, I was at Sivasagar, Jorhat, Dibrugarh and Tinsukia and all the protests I was part of took place outside the DC [deputy commissioner’s] office and I ensured that people stayed non-violent, but protest and protest hard.
Several groups and organisations have been part of the recent protests. Do you think you and your organisation have been singled out?
This has been done to convert a genuine people’s uprising to a farcical movement so that nothing concrete can be achieved from it. And for that they have cracked down on all the progressive elements of the protests. It is not only me who has been targeted, but they have gone after the media that are not toeing their line.
Anyone who has called the Act unconstitutional, communal and unlawful, and has provided a framework that could help the Assamese people fulfil their aspirations in the future, has been targeted. But people who are helping the government quell the movement and people who are using the movement as a safety valve are being spared.
Why do you think the government is booking you under such stringent laws?
Our arguments and fight have substance. They see a genuinely progressive strand in us and are scared that we represent the aspirations of the Assamese people. Our movement was on its way to offer an alternative to the current system to the people. The government basically doesn’t want an alternative politics that counters the communal fascist regime to emerge.
Have you been subjected to any custodial torture so far?
Yes, great mental and physical torture. I have been subjected to very inhumane treatment.
Where do you think the current agitation is heading?
There are two possibilities and, as things stand now, it can go either way: it can flourish into a genuine people’s movement or it can turn into a state-sponsored movement. I have only one appeal: I urge people not to be part of the state-sponsored movement.