One of the lesser known aspects of recent Assembly elections which deserves to be known more widely is that the well-known social activist Akhil Gogoi has won the election from Sivasagar constituency from Assam even though he fought the election from behind the bars as he had been arrested following his opposition to Citizens’ Amendment Act ( CAA). Despite being confined to his prison cell all the while, Akhil Gogoi defeated his nearest BJP rival by an impressive margin of 11875 votes. The victory looks all the more impressive considering the huge money power of the BJP and that on the whole the circumstances had been so favorable to the BJP which recorded a win with a big lead in Assam and is in the process of again forming its government in the state.
Akhil’s campaign was handled by fellow-activists and supporters on a very low budget. The star-campaigner in the case was Akhil’s mother Priyada who overcame illness and frail health to appeal to the sentiments of the people for justice and solidarity.
Akhil Gogoi won widespread recognition at a young age for his campaigns against corruption and later also for utilizing the newly won Right to Information for exposing corruption in matters relating to rural employment schemes, a success story which also fetched him a prestigious national award. Apart from his activism, Akhil Gogoi was involved in co-editing an important Assamese journal also for some time.
He formed an organization of peasants called the Krisha Mukti Sangram Samiti. He has been closely involved in exposing the illegal occupation of large tracts by land mafia. If such illegal occupations can be vacated, then land can be available for the genuinely needy and hardworking landless or near landless peasants, or their cooperatives.
At a time when adverse impacts and risks of large dams relating to social and environmental as well as safety aspects have been highlighted all over the world, Akhil Gogoi has played an important role in drawing attention to these aspects in the context of several dams being constructed in Assam and Arunachal Pradesh as well as mobilizing opposition to these dams.
He has also played a pioneering role in helping marketing efforts of farm produce by reducing the role of middlemen and helping to establish direct links of farmers with urban consumers in cities like Guwahati.
Hence it is clear that most of his activities have related to very useful and creative initiatives. However it is true that some powerful interests have been threatened in the process and this perhaps this is why he has faced harassment and threats from time to time. He also emerged as a powerful voice of opposition to Citizens Amendment Act ( CAA) and then he was arrested.
There have been several demands for his release, but instead he has been implicated in several cases and bail has also been denied.
Allegations of any Maoist links have been refuted not only by Akhil Gogoi but also by other highly reputed social activists of India whose firm commitment to peace has never been in doubt and who have spoken on his behalf.
Following his election victory and the reflection in this of the tremendous support of the people for him, the long pending demands of many people for his release should at last be respected now and he should be immediately released.
Bharat Dogra is a journalist and author. His recent books include Man Over Machine ( Gandhian ideas for our times ) and Protecting Earth for Children.