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New Delhi: On January 28, 2020, JNU student Sharjeel Imam was arrested under the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) and Section 124A (sedition) of the Indian Penal Code for allegedly making an inflammatory speech at the Aligarh Muslim University at a protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).
In the January 16, 2020 speech that made it to the news and enraged a swathe of people, particularly in Assam, Imam allegedly urged protestors to bloc roads and rail lines and ‘cut off’ Assam and the rest of the Northeast from India.
Soon after the speech, Imam was accused of several offences, including sedition, promoting enmity between different groups on the grounds of religion, race, place of birth, imputations prejudicial to national integration, and public mischief under the IPC and indulging in unlawful activities under the UAPA.
Cases were filed against him by police in five different states: Assam, Uttar Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur and Delhi.
Since then, Imam, who has since also been charged with involvement in the 2020 Delhi violence, has been denied bail several times. This past July 15, he has moved yet another bail plea before a Delhi court in the case.
On July 29, Kaushik Rai, a BJP MLA from Assam’s Lalitpur constituency, while addressing a gathering on the Assam side of the border with Mizoram – which has been volatile since the July 26 violence – urged the public to “take revenge” and “remind the Mizos that if we block their supply of essential commodities, gas, oil, they will starve to death”.
As per a news report in Barak Bulletin, Rai, who visited the tense inter-state border on the Assam’s Cachar district, along with a minister from the Himanta Biswa Sarma government Parimal Suklabaidya and others, appealed to the public to continue their economic blockade on Mizoram. The blockade had begun after the July 26 incident which led to the deaths of six Assam police officers and one civilian.
“No matter what police says, no matter what the Government says, we will take revenge; we will not withdraw the economic blockade. My appeal to all of you is that we shall, under any circumstances continue this blockade. If needed, we the elected representatives shall join you … I wholeheartedly support this blockade,” Rai said.
Rai’s speech, prodding the people to continue illegally blocking the arterial national highway No 306 from Assam to Mizoram, is contradictory to the official stand of the Assam government. Chief minister Sarma claims “there is no economic blockade” while the Mizoram government has formally written to the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) in New Delhi to help lift this blockade as the supply of essential goods, particularly medicines, have been considerably affected.
In that public speech, Rai also stated, “Their MP (Rajya Sabha MP K. Vanlalvena) is threatening that they shall kill us all. It is our time to respond but not in his language. We shall remind the Mizos that if we block their supply of essential commodities, gas, oil, they will starve to death. The only way for us to pay tribute to the six martyrs of the Assam police is by ensuring that the economic blockade is a success. We are with you in this fight.”
Rai was reacting to the statements made by the Mizo National Front MP Vanlalvena in an interview, when he said, “They are lucky that we have not killed them all. Again the[y] encroach, we shall kill them all.” This speech became viral on social media.
In response, the Sarma government filed a case against the parliamentarian and sent a police team to New Delhi to serve him the summons. When he was not found at his residence, the team pasted the summons order on his door.
However, with the intervention of the MHA, both the state governments have decided to scale down the conflict, leading to the Mizoram government announcing that it would take back all the cases filed in relation to the July 26 border violence, including an FIR in which Sarma was named. In tandem, the Assam government said it would withdraw the case filed against Vanlalvena.
Meanwhile, the parallels between Kaushik Rai’s July 29 speech and Sharjeel Imam’s December 2019 speech has led to the circulation of memes on social media highlighting, one as the ‘new normal’ and the other as ‘terror activity’. So far, no action has been taken against Rai.