Guwahati: The CAA and the NRC. At least for the media outlets outside Assam, it seemed that the state elections would be fought only on those two issues. There was, however, one more issue, or person, who caught national attention: Akhil Gogoi, the firebrand peasant leader, was arrested for organising protests against the CAA before the pandemic. The Assam and the Central government have gone after Gogoi with all their might and have labelled him as one of, if not the most, dangerous leaders of Assam.
But clearly, the voters of Sivasagar disagree, as seen on May 2.
In the assembly results that came out on Sunday, Gogoi created history by becoming the only candidate in Assam’s history to win elections while being imprisoned. He received 53,834 votes, while his nearest contestant, Surabhi Rajkonwari of the BJP, got 42,454 votes. The Congress candidate Subhamitra Gogoi got 17,851 votes.
One would have to go as far back as 1991 to locate Dilip Dekhial Phukon, who contested the Assam assembly elections while jailed in Jorhat. He contested from the Xanjukta Lok Parishad, but lost the election. Gauri Shankar Bhattacharya, the father of Siddharth Bhattacharya—the Guwahati East MLA—also filed his nomination when he was in jail during The Emergency. But Bhattacharya got bail for campaigning and won the election.
Significantly, Akhil Gogoi remained in jail until July 2020, when he had to be shifted to the Guwahati Medical College and Hospital (GMCH) after he contracted the Coronavirus. Since then, he has been in the hospital under observation.
In an age when every other contestant had never-ending access to social media, Gogoi had to depend on his mom Priyoda Gogoi to take his message to his constituents. Before he was arrested, Gogoi was the advisor of the Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS). From jail, he formed Raijor Dal (people’s party).
Soon after his victory confirmation, Gogoi’s mother told media persons, “His responsibilities have now increased. He is now bound to be with the people of Sivasagar through thick and thin.”
“This is possible only because of the love of the people of Sivasagar. This is not just Akhil’s victory but the victory of the people. His win has given the family some relief,” said his wife, Geetashri Tamuli.
Commenting on Gogoi’s victory and its importance, Rasel Hussain, Raijor Dal, vice president, told EastMojo, “We hope he will get bail to participate in the oath-taking. Otherwise also, he is likely to get bail in 2-3 months through the normal procedure.”
“The result of each constituency where Raijor Dal filed their candidates reflects that the party has made its mark. We came into existence only recently. On January 7 we had our first general meeting in Moran and our main leader was in jail. But despite that, all our candidates had given a tough fight to their opponents. In the next assembly election in 2026, the fight will be between Raijor Dal and BJP,” Hussain said.
Gogoi’s 20-year battle for Assam
Gogoi’s victory on May 2 is his biggest since his college days when he emerged as a student leader at the then Cotton College (now Cotton University) against a certain Himanta Biswa Sarma. If Gogoi does get bail, he is likely to face off against Sarma in the assembly, a contest that would be looked at with interest by both political analysts as well as common people.
It is important to add that while Gogoi has been an activist since the 90s, he came into national prominence during the anti-dam movement during the 2000s. In 2005, Akhil founded the Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS). Apart from the hydroelectric projects, Gogoi and KMSS also raised issues of land rights. As a grassroots leader, Gogoi gained substantial popularity because of his fight against rampant corruption in many government schemes and the state’s public distribution system.
In the late 2000s, the KMSS led large mass protests against the construction of big dams in Assam and the Northeast region, particularly the Lower Subansiri dam in Gerukamukh in Dhemaji District. In fact, much before the CAA, Gogoi had regular run-ups against the government, including the Tarun Gogoi government.
However, until now, Gogoi has only been associated with grassroots politics and mobilisation. It will be interesting to see how he handles his new responsibility of being a legislator, and if he has the acumen to develop and consolidate the formative years of Raijor Dal.