This one man has been in the news across the length and breadth of the state of Assam. After his initial recognition as an anti-corruption RTI activist today he unperturbedly clashes head on with people in power of the Govt of Assam, central ministries and even the concerned central ministers. Since then till now his popularity and mass base has always seen a positive slope. Undeterred pro-poor, pro-farmer and pro-indigenous stand of his has taken this one name “Akhil Gogoi” from villages to villages and one home to another. Media focuses more attention on this one man than even the opposition. Honestly speaking many does reckon him as the true opposition to the congress rule of the state as a leader of the common masses unbiased in raising their concerns.
Whenever popularity grows criticism will definitely follow. This article is not a piece of criticism of Akhil Gogoi but a critic of the kind of criticism thrown on this man. Criticism and protest are two faces of the same coin in the state of Assam. We have a section protesting almost on every issue and we have a hand in pocket block criticizing sch actions each day. I will sadly have to insert this comment here that the number of dedicated workers in Assam is just a handful. Whatever Akhil Gogoi’s final motive be, be it political mileage or any other, it is outside the purview of my criticism of his critics because at the end of the day every individual works in his/her self interest. Akhil Gogoi as citizen reserves the right to have his own such wishes. Firstly no one can deny that right and secondly having political ambitions in a democracy is a good thing because participation is a primary tenet of democracy.
Recent times have seen multi layered criticism for this person. “His protests disrupts normalcy and is a headache for the normal people”. What has Akhil Gogoi done for the farmers? Isn’t Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (the organization led by Akhil Gogoi) getting too much involved in politics? Let us at the onset understand that we don’t live in a true democracy at all. Our rights are never protected unless we appeal for it and in some cases it is grossly violated by Govt. agencies or private players in close nexus with Govt. agencies. Sometime when we see open firing against protesters, curfews announced whenever there is a slight possibility of protest, when media is debarred from questioning the public representatives a flash back of pre-independence times crosses the mind. If pre-independence saw one jallianwala bagh we have seen dozens after it. So for the hands in pocket crowd to disqualify Akhil Gogoi’s protest just because it may stall their easy drive on the streets of Guwahati is a little shortsighted. In the Indian democratic setup we sadly cannot expect petitions and notices to the Govt. to bring a change. Memorandums after memorandums will go down the drain. Politicians are hardly concerned about good governance and participatory democracy. They are the main reason for the depletion of people’s belief in the democracy and democratic institutions. The only thing that seems to work is votes and vote bank. So unless the misdeeds of the governments are brought to the streets by the people themselves in a way that it seems to affect their future electoral results hardly anyone bothers to care. That these protests at times turn violent is only natural to digest. The house and property that my father built with his hard work of decades, the house that me and my family calls home, if that is suddenly snatched away from me then I for certain will go mad. I am thankful that the illiterate, impoverished masses on the call of Akhil Gogoi came to protest democratically. They came with what democracy called for, a memorandum to be submitted to the concerned authorities. But when they knocked their door instead of receiving the public opinion they were left stranded on the sun baked streets for hours without water and shade. Natural slogans were responded with lathi charge and bullets were fired. How do we want them to react? The ones who had lost everything and yet with some belief in democracy came forward to protest, for them was it any less than the tyranny of imperial rule. Things went on as it happens in India. Relocation and rehabilitation is easily promised. And exactly a year later when agricultural land was handed over unlawfully to business hubs in rural kamrup the same landless people had to protest all over again. Can’t we notice how circular this issue of land has been made by the government in Assam? The poor have been drawn to the centre of this issue and rendered landless and unemployed.
This was just one cause. At the end of this debate instead of being sympathetic to such causes affecting the poor such as violation of land rights, scam in distribution of fertilizers and seeds, setting industries in a manner that it impacts rural livelihood and traditional occupation etc if we try to be judgmental about the means and mode adopted by these oppressed people then I think we are being highly presumptuous. Our belief in democratic institutions is almost over; our belief in our representatives is also over. The day our belief in protest and participation is over we will hit the final nail in the coffin on which democracy can rest for ever. Protest by its very nature is meant to bear externalities. Protest is not a show run by an event management company after few weeks of rehearsal. Protest is meant to lodge genuine grievances that affect us. I cannot be unhappy about the fact that some protest disrupted my journey for a few hours. In fact I will be and I must be happy that a few miles walk by me might bring back what was snatched from many. Democracy will function only if we the citizens stand together as a unit. I cannot defect because my short term benefits over shadows the long term benefits of many or criticize others who are trying to do it.
Secondly when people ask as to what this man has done for the farmers and being a farmer organization is it diving too deeply into politics. I don’t know if we would have heard of this name called Akhil Gogoi had we had a government that functioned efficiently enough to meet all the requirements of the farmers. The reason we know of him is because we have had successive governments that have not done their responsibility properly. In Assam we have been asking all these wrong questions for the longest possible time. What has ULFA done? What has AASU done? And now what has Akhil Gogoi done? The functioning authority is the government. It is their responsibility to engage the people for meeting the best end for all. That NRC has not been updated, indigenous right have not been protected, border has not been sealed is a failure of the govt. AGP which was in power for 10 years can be blamed for this but not the AASU which has kept this issue alive in the national stage for so long. Similarly we cannot question Akhil Gogoi on what he has done positively for farmers. Some wants him to launch an information scheme for farmers; quality seed distribution scheme; few wants him to incentivize Assamese youth to take up agriculture. The people have not given the mandate to him but to the government to act positively in the interest of people. Being a human being with 24 hours a day in hand Akhil Gogoi has at least pointed the negatives and thereby brought the farmers issues to mainstream. In his absence would we have known of a seed distribution scam, irregularities in tractor and water pump distribution? When he started the sale of vegetables at half the normal market price the common man realized the huge amount of hoarding and black marketing which happens in between. Will you as a citizen with common sense want Akhil Gogoi to continue such sale of vegetables for ever in every corner of Assam or will you want the govt to check black marketing, hoarding and syndicate raj to ensure fair price in market. Responsible citizens will form more NGO’s or join hands with Akhil to support farmers pro-actively. Putting a burden on him is a mere out of the cult idea which we Assamese have indoctrinated best (we cannot see another person rise above us and will do our best to bring him down). Lastly to comment on KMSS and its engagements on political issues, the idea of farmer issues being the core of the political drama has historical pretext. Agricultural taxes, oppression of farmer class have often been the reason for most revolts. Also it is important to understand that being the most primary part of the economy the farmers have to face all the problems of that economy as it ultimately trickles down to them. Every Government issue does impact the farmers. In the recent chit fund case most of the people who were cheated were the poor peasant population who in the absence of formal banking options have to resort to such saving schemes. Inflation hits them the hardest. Lack of good education, drinking water facility, sanitation bothers them the most. At the same time I must agree that in the political game Akhil Gogoi is over burdening himself, in few cases unnecessarily drawing opposition and personal enmity. In the long run of politics people are remembered more for the results they produced instead of the efforts they put in. With concentrated efforts he will have to produce results sooner than later. Criticism will continue, and even I don’t have to say that people should not criticize him because we are in a democracy. I can only use my democratic right to criticize their criticism. On the end note I would like to say that even if people cannot appreciate his efforts it is wrong to view his initiatives from our closed rooms in a way that suits us and judge him on those parameters. If we live in a failed democracy we cannot throw our knowledge of civics on the masses whose civic rights have been grossly violated.