A research scholar at the Special Centre for the Study of North East India (SCSNEI) at JNU, Mrinal Borah is a well-known activist and commentator in Assam. As Assam approaches assembly elections, Jyotirmoy Talukdar sits with him to discuss the jailed leader Akhil Gogoi, and what new political calculations hold for the state’s future.
On the importance of Akhil Gogoi in Assam’s politics
If the 1990s were the Parag Das era, then people who followed the politics in the post Assam Movement era would arguably agree that Akhil Gogoi is the tallest opposition leader in Assam for the past one to two decades – the leader who everyone would listen to despite ideological differences. The often aggressive politics of Akhil seems to have hit the right chord among the masses especially the liberal middle class and the rural population, at least in those predominantly Axomiya speaking regions and among a respectable non-Axomiya speaking section.
Akhil fills that gap between the Nationalist and the Left which was left as a vacuum since the 80s. Interestingly, he could carry out in the media the Left narrative without using the traditional jargon. All this while, on the streets the movements carried the basic material questions of land and water rights. A systemic change might be far-fetched today on any front. Yet the reforms programmed through the movements led by Akhil are significant. It is to be noted that they were manoeuvred in such a way that big corporate owners like Naveen Jindal were also taken by surprise, which is made evident by a courageous challenge where Akhil demanded that the Lower Subansiri Dam Project be shut immediately. People of Assam saw hope in him someone who could bring them out of their miseries.
On Akhil Gogoi’s political journey and important interventions
In 2005, Akhil came up with his new brand of politics that took the people’s imagination to the days of Parag Das. After the rejection of the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) due to the charges of secret killings in 2001, Congress came to power and remained without any electoral opposition till the BJP dethroned them in 2016 riding on factors like anti-incumbency, Modi wave and intra-party conflict in the party. In this period, when there was no opposition to vote for, the rise of Akhil filled the vacuum and he soon became the voice of the people.
This seems like a brief history but for many of us, he is the opposition that would find favour cutting across ethnicities and religious beliefs. Akhil, if we try to comprehend him ideologically, was someone who could mobilize the peasants on the questions of “internal colonialism” which was lucidly explained to them as ‘baniyas’ snatching their land by fooling them with false promises. It proved to be a successful way of putting things across in rural areas where land was being sold at a very low price to the corporates to set up big godowns and factories near the Guwahati city. The peasants till now were more or less with the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) but it lacked a charismatic leader, and the Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS) led by Akhil was the platform for many of them, owing to his charisma.
Consequently, students joined and this unity of students and peasants created a new group of activists. This is the most important contribution of KMSS and Akhil’s political life. Today, we see a new bunch of young leaders like Manas Konwar and Bittu Sonowal who come from this particular formation.
On Akhil Gogoi and colleagues joining the electoral fray
Let’s try to understand that after Akhil was jailed, two important developments took place in Assam’s politics. One is the formation of the Asom Jatiya Parishad (AJP) – an organization that enjoys the support of both the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) and the Asom Jatiyatabadi Yuba Chatra Parishad (AJYCP) – and the Raijor Dol which is led by the KMSS. Akhil is the president of the Raijor Dol. These two entities are a result of the Anti-CAA movement in Assam and formed an alliance recently.
Anchalik Gana Morcha, another state-based party led by Ajit Bhuyan made a tactical move of joining the grand-alliance led by Congress. Without a doubt, the Raijor Dol and the AJP will be able to garner votes that are anti-BJP and anti-Congress. The leaders, Lurinjyoti Gogoi and Akhil Gogoi might also find support from the grand-alliance in their respective constituencies that they personally choose to contest from. However, without any big alliance partner, it might be a challenge for this new alliance alone if it decides to contest elections without the help of parties with a credible and tested presence in Assam.
With all the money and organizational strength till the booth level at the BJP’s disposal, it is a mammoth task for any opposition to fight them alone. Let’s not forget the initiatives that keep fueling the ruling party’s strength. Pouring gifts like red scooters for girls, monetary benefits to the students are some examples. Red scooters are almost seen as a symbol of development and the BJP’s gift for loyalty in rural settings, which is utterly shocking. If the new formation is meant to defeat the current ruling alliance, then it needs to understand how the electoral understanding of the election itself has changed recently. Akhil and comrades must be encouraged to contest elections in 2021 by focusing on a few constituencies where they have an opportunity to defeat the BJP.
Jyotirmoy Talukdar is a Senior Writing Fellow (English Language Teaching) at the Centre for Writing and Communication, Ashoka University. He is also a freelance journalist regularly contributing to HuffPost India, The Wire and various Assamese dailies.
Picture Credits: Facebook (akhil.gogoi.5832)
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