Assam’s intellectuals rally for democracy: Condemn chief minister’s conspiracy allegations against Dr. Hiren Gohain

The Sahitya Akademi award winner, 85-year-old Gohain has repeatedly been targeted by the CM for his vocal stance against the ruling BJP government. In January, 2024, the chief minister also directed Gauhati University to take action against a teacher who merely displayed support for Gohain.
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As the Lok Sabha elections continue in Assam, the chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma has taken to calling intellectual Hiren Gohain an ‘Urban Naxal’. This has angered the state’s intellectuals and prominent civil society who have strongly condemned the attack.

According to these activists, many social workers and intellectuals have already been labelled as ‘urban Naxalites’ and tortured. In most cases, the charges against them have been proved in court to be false and fabricated. Civil society dissidents have thereby released a statement in support of Gohain. The statement highlights that this move can be seen as the government’s ‘counter-movement’ against the struggle of the common people, nature lovers, patriots, and democratic people against the tribal evictions is called the ‘Urban Naxal’ crackdown. The term ‘urban Naxal’ has been used to suppress and imprison critics of the government.

The statement further reads that the Chief Minister of Assam has repeatedly targeted Dr. Gohain without responding to his criticism. “There is anger among the people against this and it is impossible to deal with it with the temptation of schemes. Therefore, there are fears that the Chief Minister is using the word ‘Urban Naxal’ to suppress people’s movement. Therefore, prominent intellectuals and citizens have called on all those who love Assam to stand for democracy and rights to protest against the conspiracy statement made by the Chief Minister against Dr. Hiren Gohain.”

The signatories to the statement are Ajit Kumar Bhuyan, Harekrishna Deka, Dr. Paramanand Mohanta, Dr. Chandramohan Sharma, Loknath Goswami, Dr. Jyoti Prasad Chaliha, Dr. Apurba Kumar Barua, Professor Purneswar Nath, Dr. Manorama Sharma, Professor Abdul Mannan, Baikunth Das.

A Sahitya Akademi awardee, Gohain is a retired English professor from the Gauhati University. He has been known for his civil society presence, his strong critique of the BJP, and communal forces in the state. Gohain had written in February for Sabrang India, offering nuanced and on-ground perspectives about the citizenship crisis of Assam, and had also criticised the BJP for creating a perceived threat of Muslims and trying to consolidate votes, across Assamese and Bengali speakers in the state. This, according to Gohain, was resultant of the shaky ground BJP is in Assam due to resentment from the people against the party for its handling of the CAA crisis.

Gohain, along with Akhil Gogoi, had faced charges of sedition for protesting against the Citizenship Amendment Act in 2019. Thus, this is not the first time Gohain has seen a hostile response from the BJP. In January 2024, Akhil Ranjan Dutta, a political science professor at Gauhati University, had condemned CM Sarma’s earlier statements against Gohain. However, the chief minister responded to Dr Dutta’s actions by writing to the vice-chancellor of the university he taught at to take disciplinary action against him. The CM stated that frequently criticising the chief minister was ‘unacceptable’, “As a faculty member, he frequently criticises the chief minister, which is unacceptable.”

Is this a result of the BJP losing Assam?

Interestingly, the chief minister has claimed from the beginning that BJP will win 13 out of 14 seats. However, after the first and second phases of the Lok Sabha elections, which took place on 19th and 26th April, many people think that it seems that the people have registered a change. On May 7 the third phase of the elections will happen in the state, with four constituencies in such as Guwahati, Barpeta, Kokrajhar and Dhubri set to see polling.

In Guwahati, both the BJP and Congress have women candidates. There will be direct competition between Congress candidate Mira Barthakur and BJP candidate Bijuli Kalita.

It is notable that Mira Barthakur earlier was BJP’s strong women leader. However, she was expelled in 2018 and joined the Congress party in 2021. Hiren Gohain was also recently campaigning for Congress candidate Mira Borthakur Goswami in Guwahati.

Meanwhile, In the remaining three constituencies such as Dhubri, Kokrajhar, and Barpeta, according to on-ground sources, the Muslim voters are very much a factor in winning. In Dhubri, though the NDA (National Democratic Alliance) has fielded a Muslim candidate, Asom Gana Parishad (AGP)’s Zabed Islam, and is trying to win against incumbent Badurddin Ajmal. However, observers state that despite such moves the main contest in Dhubri is between the Congress and the AIUDF. Similarly, observers suggest that in Barpeta and Kokrajhar the mood of the people also seems to be against BJP and their alliance partners.


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