New Delhi: The Gauhati high court on Thursday quashed the detention order issued by the Assam government on September 25 under the National Security Act (NSA) against Akhil Gogoi, raising hopes among his supporters of getting the farmers’ rights activist released from jail soon.
Gogoi, leader of the Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS) and an opponent of the BJP-led state government, has been kept in Dibrugarh jail since September 13 – first arrested on charges of sedition under Section 124 (A) of the Indian Penal Code and thereafter rearrested under the NSA on September 25.
The sedition charges against Gogoi were based on a speech he delivered at a public rally in Moran town near Dibrugarh about the Narendra Modi government’s decision to grant citizenship to Hindu Bangladeshis residing in the state in violation of the Assam Accord of 1985. According to news reports, Gogoi was accused of instigating the public to take up arms against the government to protect their rights in their land.
The NSA charges were brought in against Gogoi by the state government on the basis of 12 cases, most of which are old and registered against him in different police stations across the state.
Speaking to reporters in Guwahati after the high court’s order on Thursday, Gogoi’s advocate Santanu Borthakur said senior advocate Nilay Dutta had argued on behalf of Gogoi on three counts: “First, on the argument that it was a violation of his fundamental rights under Article 22 (5) of the constitution as he was not informed that he could give a representation to the NSA detaining authority, the Nowgong district judge and can also give a representation to the central government. Second, that many of the documents based on which he was charged under NSA, were not made available to us; and three, since it deals with the fundamental rights and liberty of a citizen, it was binding on the state government to make all efforts to conduct the procedures required under NSA as soon as possible.”
“However, disposal of the representation Gogoi made to the Assam government and the one that the government made to the Centre, were both delayed by a week without giving any reason or explanation. The HC took note of the first and the third count under Article 22 (5) and set him at liberty.”
Borthakur added, “Though we are yet to get the certified copy of the judgement, it is clear that it also calls for an inquiry to be conducted by the state chief secretary on the delay on the government’s part in conducting the procedures.”
Though a large number of KMSS supporters arrived at the Dibrugarh jail on Thursday morning hoping to see their leader free, Gogoi’s release is not likely to be immediate. Borthakur said, “The HC order clearly says that he can be set free if no other charges are there against him. Today, simultaneously, his bail application in the sedition case is being heard by the Dibrugarh sessions court. Though the police have finally filed a chargesheet in that case, according to us, they are late by a day and therefore he deserves to get default bail. Now it is up to the court.”
KMSS leader Bhasco De Saikia told The Wire that Gogoi’s advocates Borthakur, Dutta and N.N. Choudhury “appeared on behalf of him in the NSA case without any charges”.
The HC order, Saikia said, “would be sent to the relevant authorities in Dibrugarh (in upper Assam) by tomorrow through a special messenger as per a prayer by Gogoi’s advocates.” He said, “The hearing of the bail application in the Dibrugarh court is complete by now and the order is expected this evening.”
On December 20, just a day before the HC was to give its judgement in Gogoi’s appeal against the charges under NSA, the Assam police slapped another charge on him on the basis of an FIR filed in Dudhnoi town in the state’s Goalpara district.
The FIR, filed by one Nobajyoti Sharma on September 11, was against the act of blackening signboards of colleges named after the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh ideologue Deendayal Upadhyay in Dudhnoi on September 10, allegedly by the student’s wing of the KMSS, Chattra Mukti Sangram Samiti.
Though Gogoi or any other person related to the organisation has not been named as an accused in the FIR, a two-member team of officers from the Goalpara police station travelled to Dibrugarh to seek permission from the local chief judicial magistrate’s court to arrest him in the case and for his subsequent remand from the Dibrugarh jail. However, the chief judicial magistrate’s court didn’t grant permission to the Goalpara police to arrest and transport Gogoi from Dibrugarh for reasons of security.
KMSS leader Saikia said, “Even though the FIR says ‘unknown’ in the accused column and Gogoi was not present in Dudhnoi on September 10, the police have made him an accused in the case.” He termed it as “yet another attempt by the state government to stop Gogoi from getting out of jail before the crucial Panchayat elections in the state (slated for coming February) as his rural base and popularity among the farming community is strong.”
Besides opposing the Modi government’s attempt to amend the Citizenship Act, the Assam government’s decision to name colleges after Upadhyay and the construction of big dams, Gogoi has been raising issues related to the agrarian crises in the state.
Recently the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee, a platform of over 50 farmers’ organisation from across the country, called Gogoi’s detention under NSA “illegal” and demanded his immediate release threatening to resort to a national level campaign.