Jailed peasants’ rights activist Akhil Gogoi in an open letter on Tuesday alleged that he was physically and mentally tortured in the custody of the National Investigation Agency, and claimed that he was offered instant bail by the investigators in return for joining the Bharatiya Janata Party or its ideological mentor, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, PTI reported.

Gogoi, the leader of the Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti, was placed under preventive arrest on December 12, 2019, after he staged a sit-in protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act, which took Assam by storm, later spreading to other parts of the country. The National Investigation Agency said that Gogoi had been booked for “waging a war against the nation”, conspiracy and rioting. Three days after his arrest, the activist was charged under the stringent Unlawful Activities Prevention Act.

The letter released by Gogoi’s newly floated political outfit, Raijor Dal, said that after his arrest, the peasant leader was taken to Delhi on December 18, 2019, without the court’s permission.

“I was taken from the National Investigation Agency court in Guwahati secretly by an aircraft at night to the NIA headquarters in Delhi,” Gogoi alleged, according to The Shillong Times. “At the NIA headquarters, I was lodged in lockup around 3 am on December 18, 2019, given a dirty blanket and made to sleep on the floor in temperatures as low as three to four degrees Celsius.”

He said that during the course of a “marathon interrogation”, the NIA investigators tried to explain to him that the Citizenship Amendment Act was being brought to save the country. “I was also offered bail if I joined the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh,” he said. “When I started debating against the insulting offer, they offered another proposal of joining the BJP, while enticing me that I could contest the Assembly against a vacant seat and become a minister.”

Gogoi is contesting the Assembly elections in Assam from Sivasagar constituency. His party Raijor Dal has joined hands with the Assam Jatiya Parishad to fight the polls as a combined anti-CAA forum against the BJP.

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The activist also alleged that he was offered Rs 20 crore to leave Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti, start a non-governmental organisation, and work against the conversion of Assamese people into Christianity. “When I did not accept any of their proposals, they offered me a meeting with the chief minister and an influential minister of Assam,” Gogoi said. “I turned down that too.”

He further alleged that when he accepted none of the proposals, he was branded a “noncompliant citizen and charged in extreme cases” and was threatened that he would face “dire consequences” for his decisions. “Death threats were given along with the threat of serving 10 years in jail,” he added. “With such physical and mental torture, I became restless on the night of December 20, 2019.”

‘Baseless allegations only to gain votes’: BJP

The Bharatiya Janata Party rejected Gogoi’s letter, calling his claims “baseless allegations and nothing but cheap politics”, according to PTI. Party spokesperson Rupam Goswami alleged that the letter was issued only to gain votes. “However, the people of Assam have understood what Akhil Gogoi is,” he added. “Assamese people are very mature. Nobody will vote for him and he will lose his deposit.”

Gogoi’s allegations came less than a week before the 126-member Assam Assembly goes to polls in three phases from March 27, in an election considered to be a mandate on the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s citizenship laws.

The Citizenship Amendment Act, notified in 2019, made undocumented non-Muslim migrants from Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan eligible for Indian citizenship. Across the country, protests broke out against the law, seen as an assault on secular values inscribed in the Constitution.

In Assam, and other states of the North East, it activated older anxieties – that communities defined as indigenous to the region would be swamped by Bengali-speaking migrants from Bangladesh. Assam shares a long border with Bangladesh, and angry protestors declared that the new law would spell the death knell for the Assamese identity.

The Bharatiya Janata Party, however, maintains that the CAA was a non-issue and the politics around it will play no role in the election.