By- Priyankan Goswami
Akhil Gogoi, for the people of Assam is now more than a RTI activist or farmers leader. He is now a symbol of rebellion for whom both the young and the old takes to the streets at a single call of him. As termed by ULFA Supremo Paresh Baruah Akhil Gogoi is the Martin Luther King of Assam for many.
However, in spite of Gogoi’s charismatic style of leadership, questions have started to be whispered as to whether the actions of this member of the suddenly famed Team Anna are indeed yielding results or just mobilizing symbolic agitations.
Take the example of the very recent tragic incident that took place on 10th of October at Bechimari of Darrang district where four jute farmers were killed and several others injured in police firing. The incident happened when hundreds of jute growers of the area had blocked the NH 52 to protest the sudden and big reduction of the minimum support price of jute in the weekly market. The protest had turned strong and the administration, unable to control the mob amicably had resorted to police firing, killing the farmers whose only mistake was to get angry due to complete injustice done on them.
The minimum support price of jute set by Jute Corporation of India Limited is Rs 1,515 for per quintal of Tossa variety grown in Assam. Middlemen had been procuring jute from cultivators at Rs 900 per quintol but the price had suddenly slumped to Rs 550 per quintal last week. Due to this sudden drop, jute farmers had to face tremendous hardship and as such the agitation had taken place, resulting in tragic death of farmers. There is absolutely no doubt that Proper price policy and proactive approach by the Government would have not only saved the lives of the farmers killed in yesterday’s agitation but would have avoided the situation completely.
After the incident happened, farmer’s leader Akhil Gogoi, general secretary of Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS) was quick to react. As expected and evident, he started of by blaming the State Government for the indifferent attitude taken against farmers, declared statewide protest against the incident and reminded (boasted?) that his organization, KMSS, had been demanding from 2005 for right prices to the produce of farmers of Assam.
All of the statements and actions, largely symbolic again that gives no hope of justice to the family of the killed farmers, nor does it promise to bring reformation to the pricing policy without depending on the mercy of the Government.
Mobilization of the people is indeed necessary to voice and protest against an injustice done. This is what democracy is all about; at least this is what democracy is supposed to be. But at the same time, the same democracy also has a judicial system, high courts, supreme courts, provision to file petitions, etc.
Would terming the four dead farmers as martyrs by the KMSS or the compensation paid by Tarun Gogoi do justice to their death or sacrifice? No, it wouldn’t For this, more than a symbolic protest or martyr hood, justice has to be achieved and the cause for which they died has to be fulfilled. For this, the best way would have been to approach the judiciary.
If Akhil Gogoi files a case in the high court, alleging a murder case on the farmers killed and attempt to murder on the injured, the judiciary would be forced to take action and proper investigation rather than the day-today and common assurances by the Government that investigation would be done, guilty would be punished, etc. We have seen enough of such investigations being successful, be it be the murder of Late Parag Kumar Das, uncountable rapes of women in the hands of security forces or the bodies of youth burned along with tires by the police in Nagaon.
Even the Supreme Court can be approached and if the public momentum is used to bring the case to a quicker and honest closure, it would be some actual work done. The best example would be the repeal of the notorious IMDT Act which finally was put off not due to public protests alone, but by an order of the Supreme Court when a good initiative taken by the then MP Sarbananda Sonowal. Instead, Akhil Gogoi is seen continuing the same blame game, promoting the strike and Bandh culture and if this happens, there is no doubt that the death of these farmers would soon be forgotten as soon as another opportunity for protest or something comes up saleable enough to make headlines.
Not only with the farmer killing, many other problems currently raised by Akhil Gogoi could have been challenged within the judiciary of Indian democracy. One would remember how actively vocal Akhil Gogoi was against Minister Himanta Biswa Sharma last year, alleging and almost proving corruption charges against the minister. The issue is now long forgotten by Akhil Gogoi himself as well as by his supporters. Had he channelized the RTI properly, the files he found against the minister properly through court and judiciary, Himanta Biswa would have been now behind bars if he was indeed guilty. If big shots of central government can be jailed recently in the 2G scam, why not a state minister? But for that, one has to rise above shouting and protesting.
Akhil Gogoi’s activities and agitations are now mobilizing people more and more against the limitations of current Indian state machine. With the Paresh Baruah faction continuing to send press releases supporting Akhil Gogoi (also justifying armed struggle against Indian colonial rule in the same press releases), people had started to fear than their newfound hero might be destroyed by conspiracy and dirty politics. But even more than this fear, the way Akhil Gogoi is seen shifting his focus area from one to another, without actual solution or closure of any of the issues has now made people wonder if their new hope of revolution is just another opportunist.