Akhil Gogoi, is a peasant leader and RTI activist from Assam. Over the years he has been leading many anti-graft movements in the state. Gogoi came to national attention after he was awarded the Shanmugam Manjunath Integrity Award in 2008 for his relentless fight against corruption in 2010, he was awarded the national Right to Information Award by Public Cause Research Foundation (for his role in exposing a 12.5 million scam in Sampoorna Gram Rozgar Yojna in the Golaghat district of Assam). Gogoi is the founder Secretary of Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS)- a left wing peasant organisation based in Assam. Since mid-2009, Gogoi has been leading a widespread movement against construction of big dams in the ecologically sensitive regions of Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. For some time, he was also associated with Anna Hazare led anti-graft campaign India against Corruption.
On October 2, Akhil Gogoi was picked up from Gandhibasti,Guwahati and was later handed over to Jakhalabandha police in connection with a case of inciting protestors during an eviction drive against illegal settlers in and around the Kaziranga National Park (KNP). A team of Chandmari police escorted him to Nagaon and later he was sent to Lakhimpur Jail. Akhil Gogoi was remanded to 14 days judicial custody by a court at Golaghat on 2nd November. He was re-arrested in connection with a case of 2006.And He is still in Golaghat Central Jail. While Akhil was at Lakhimpur Central Jail, he wrote an open letter to the people of Assam. The open letter was published in Jansadharan and it got a huge response from the people. It was originally published in Assamese. Although the letter was written fifty days ago but it is still worth sharing.
Akhil Gogoi’s Open Letter to the people of Assam
Respected people of Assam,
Revolutionary greetings to everyone. It is surely known to you that I have been in Lakhimpur Central Jail since 6 October 2016. Before that, from 2nd October onwards, I was taken into police custody from our office in Gandhibasti and put into Nagaon Central Jail. I had been in jail for several times in the past. But this time I am restless and want to come out from jail and immediately join the movement. I want to be a part of the movements against the Central Government’s conspiracy to grant Indian citizenship to Hindu immigrants from Bangladesh to reside in Assam. Everything that is happening outside the jail in Assam and in Delhi has made me grow restless. Inside the cell, I can watch news only on the governmental channel. Therefore my communication with the people of Assam is restricted only through the newspapers. The public intellectuals in Assam have also condemned and warned the people against this conspiracy. I express my anxiety in this regard. I am also observing the statements and programmes of various organisations. But I want to clearly state that the role of various organisations in this regard is too weak. The people of Assam is in an extremely precarious position. On one hand, they have waved the Congress goodbye to be free from maladministration and corruption and exploitation while mandating the BJP to look forward to ‘good days’. On the other hand, the BJP has taken this opportunity to execute their anti-people agenda. The BJP governments have opened all the market sectors for the capitalist-imperialists while selling the opium of religion to the people of the country. After the election, the BJP Government in Assam have raised the price of commodities by increasing VAT, auctioned oil fields, jeopardised the livelihood of thousands of teachers by striking down the Assam Venture Educational Institutions (Provincialisation of Services) Act, 2011, moved ahead to grant citizenship to Hindu immigrants from Bangladesh in Assam. Overall, the BJP government in Assam has taken decisions against the interests of the common people of Assam in all the issues. They have encouraged a communally charged atmosphere by the eviction drive near the Kaziranga National Park. In these times of change, the nationalist organisations have failed to take a pro-people national position. How can these nationalist organisations now oppose the government whom they have given their support to four months ago! That too when the government is led by Sarbananda Sonowal and Himanta Biswa Sarma. Most of the leaders of these nationalist organisations have an excellent relationship with Sarbananda and Himanta Biswa. Therefore, the leadership of these organisations is at a loss in front of the BJP Government which has shown its true colours by rapidly taking anti-Assam, anti-people decisions. That is why I say that the Assamese society finds itself choked and drowned in troubles. The BJP is busy in gratifying Hindu Bengalis. Even as the opposition party, Congress also cannot oppose them. During the chief ministership of Tarun Gogoi, Congress has given its decision to the cabinet in favour of granting citizenship to Hindu Bengalis. Congress leadership in general is in favour of granting citizenship to Hindu Bengalis. Therefore the position of Congress is hazy, unclear and mysterious. Asom Gana Parishad is now trapped in the avarice of power. So far as we know the AJP leadership they cannot take a strong position in favour of Assam. This is their class position. BPF and AIUDF also have an almost negligible position; we all know their limitations. Overall, in these hard times, the people of Assam won’t get any help from political parties. All of them are trapped in the equation of vote and power. For decades, Congress has been busy in protecting the vote banks of immigrant Muslims, now BJP is devoted to build up a vote bank of immigrant Bengali Hindus. These vote bank politics of both the parties have jeopardised the future of the Assamese people.
The issue of granting citizenship to Hindu Bangladeshi’s cannot be seen from the vote bank perspectives of Congress and the BJP. Many equations are involved in this. Even before independence, the RSS or the Sangh Parivar have been devoted to making India a “Hindu Nation”. The “Hindu Nation” of the RSS is not only mere Hindu nation, their Hindu nation is a capitalist state erected on the base of Hinduvta which will have an imperialist character, i.e., it will have a goal of oppressing the small neighbouring nation states. Although base of the state is capitalist, it is always controlled by the Hinduvta superstructure. Their aim is to build an India which is Hinduvta from outside, with a capitalist, free, neo-liberal economy from the inside(this Hinduvta is not of the Dalits, tribals so called lower classes and the poor, this is casteist Hinduvta controlled by the upper castes.) Their national economy is already devastated in front of the capitalist economy of casteist, free trade. In line with this economy, the BJP wants to grant citizenship to Bengali Hindus in order to transform a society which has a historically tribal character with weak and loose religious sentiments and hegemony of the multi-divided indigenous people into one according to their Hindutva agenda. That is why, they are conspiring to convert “Assamese Heroes” Lachit Barphukan and Chilarai into “Hindu Heroes”. Instead of celebrating Sankardeva’s birthday they are trying to establish the hegemony of Durga Puja. They are trying to destroy the independent and distinctive character of Assamese community and build it up as an imitative community of an Indian character then it will be easier to loot the market of crude oil, coal, limestone, water, tea, as well as to enslave a historical nationalist force. If Hindu Bengalis are granted citizenship the people of Assam not only will become a minority, linguistically oppressed but also a long and powerful movement against the Centre in India would die for good. The Assamese people will be made to fight among themselves then our national goal would be to fight among ourselves in Assam.
The BJP campaigns that the demography of Assam has changed because of migration, the number of Muslims has increased, and if the Hindu Bengali foreigners migrating to Assam after1971 are given Indian citizenship, the Hindus will again become the majority in Assam. In this way the Assamese community will be saved from becoming the minority. In this way the BJP is trying to club together our long held national aspirations with Hinduvta. First, the Assamese people have never dreamt of becoming the majority in their homeland with the help of Hindu Bengali foreigners. Instead they have always imagined to be the dominant community by deporting foreigners. That is why the updating of the NRC is the national dream of the Assamese people. We can never accept the communal politics of the BJP government in the Centre and the state who initially promised to deport illegal immigrants but instead attempting to create conflicts between Hindus and Muslims. We can save our national existence only by deporting foreigners and safeguarding the interests of the indigenous people and we want only that. Second, there should be provisions to reserve seats in the Parliament, the Assembly and in Panchayats as well as in jobs, trade and commerce, and land for the indigenous Assamese people. Instead, the decision to grant citizenship to Hindu Bengali foreigners in an attempt to save the Assamese people from becoming minority is an extreme form of slandering. Third, the Assamese community was never communal, now the BJP is invested in transforming our national character into a communal one.
We should be clear in this point that we are not against the Bengalis, we are only against foreigner’s immigration happening after 24 March 1971. We have accepted every Bengali who have migrated from Bangladesh (erstwhile East Bengal) before 1971 as Assamese, given them citizenship, jobs, opportunities for trade and commerce, and the right to contest in elections. The Assamese people are against post-1971 immigration of both Hindus and Muslims. This our national consciousness. Now if those Hindu Bengalis who had been granted citizenship take the side of foreigners, there would be cracks in the relationship between the indigenous Assamese people and them. Ridiculously some sections are campaigning that the five lakh Hindu Bangladeshis who are to be settled in Assam would not hurt the interests of the three crore Assamese people. Forget about five lakh Hindu Bangladeshis, even a single Bangladeshi foreigner would tremendously hurt interests of Assamese people. On the other hand as claimed by some sections of communally-motivated people that only five lakh Hindu Bengalis have immigrated to Assam after 1971 is absolutely false. In 1971 there were 14% of Hindu population in Bangladesh and now it is 9.6%. After 1971, Hindu population in Bangladesh has decreased by almost one crore. This people have immigrated mainly to West Bengal, Tripura and Assam. Therefore the Hindu Bengalis who have immigrated to Assam after1971 would not be less than 20 lakhs. When we were travelling throughout lower Assam by foot from 20 October 2014, we came visited many such illegal Hindu Bengali villages who claimed to have come to Assam after 1971.
According to the census of 2011, total population of Assam is 3 crore 18 lakhs. According to linguistic data of 2001 census, the percentage of Assamese speaking people in Assam is 49.44% while that of Bengali speaking people is 27.91%. It is certain that the percentage of Assamese speaking people in the census data of 2011 has decreased. And if 20 lakh Bengali speaking people are added to this equation, people can easily guess how much it will increase the percentage of Bengali speaking people. Most importantly, if the proposed Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 becomes an act, not only the present 20 lakh Bengali Hindus will be citizens of Assam but it will also it easier for the rest of the Bengali Hindus living in Bangladesh to come to Assam and become citizens. According to the proposed amendment of the act, if people belonging to minority religions like Hinduism, Sikhism etc. in Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan illegally enter India, they won’t be treated as illegal immigrants and will be granted Indian citizenship after an illegal residential period of 6 years. This means that the rest of the 1 crore 70 lakh Hindu Bangladeshis according to the census report of 2015 can easily come to Assam (India). Of these 1 crore 70 lakh Bangladeshi Bengali Hindus, if one crore or all of them take citizenship in Assam, will not their population increase more than their present population in Assam? How can we accept such a devastatingly dangerous decision? Will not this dangerous decision of the central and the Assam government push us towards a permanent civil war? And may be, Assam will be divided again into two camps based on language. Will not the conscious indigenous Assamese people lose the political, economic, linguistic, and land rights and become fugitives in their own state?
Translated by: Mahmud Al Hassan