March 2: Akhil Gogoi, firebrand leader of the Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti and five of his associates, accused of abetting the self-immolation of a person during a protest over grant of land rights in Guwahati on February 24, were arrested today in a pre-dawn raid by police.
The arrests, which came a week after Pranab Boro’s death, have triggered statewide protests with scattered incidents of violence reported from across Assam.
Purnima, wife of Boro who had self-immolated, has maintained that Akhil is “innocent”.
Sources said the arrests were held off for a week for two reasons: maintaining peace on February 25 and 26 was crucial during the visit of the Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi to Assam and the police took time to build what it believes is now a solid case against Akhil and the other accused.
An arrest on February 25 or 26 would have meant risking a disruption of Rahul’s meetings by the KMSS, which had announced earlier that it would get in the way of his two-day visit to the state, sources said.
The other KMSS activists arrested are the secretary of its Kamrup district unit Deben Sarma and members Ibrahim Ali, Nurul Islam, Haren Kalita and Gajen Baishya.
Police had to fire in the air to disperse a mob, which tried to prevent Sarma’s arrest at Lichubagan in Hengerabari area here.
Though Akhil was picked up from his Nizarapar residence, all others were apprehended from Lichubagan.
A huge posse of security personnel cordoned off Akhil’s rented house at Nizarapar about half-an-hour past midnight and knocked on the door.
|KMSS members being arrested in Tezpur on Sunday. Picture by UB Photos
Since there was no response, the police waited till the arrival of an executive magistrate. After the magistrate, Chinmoy Phukan, reached around 4am, the police broke open the doors and took Akhil to Panbazar police station for questioning.
“They have been arrested for proper investigation into the self-immolation case. We are looking for three more persons,” senior superintendent of police (city), A.P. Tiwari, said.
On charges by Akhil’s wife Gitashree Tamuly that the police had used excessive force, he said, “We had called the neighbours. The media was present during the operation all the time. The police personnel did not behave as she claimed.”
On the FIR lodged by Boro’s wife against chief minister Tarun Gogoi and revenue minister Prithibi Majhi accusing them of abetting her husband to commit suicide, Tiwari said they have only made a general diary entry. He said there were no specific charges mentioned in the complaint to make it a cognisable offence and register an FIR.
“Prima facie, the allegations made were very general and insufficient for taking cognisance and registering a case. Therefore, we are further probing the matter and depending on what transpires from the investigation, appropriate action will be taken,” he said.
Another police officer, on condition of anonymity, said they have found that Boro’s wife furnished some misleading information and they were also looking into this aspect.
Later in the afternoon, all the accused were produced before the court of chief judicial magistrate, Kamrup (metro), Dipankar Bora, who remanded them in police custody for four days, though the police had sought custody for 10 days.
The case was registered against the arrested under non-bailable sections 306 (abetment to suicide) and 120 (B) (criminal conspiracy) IPC.
The judge also rejected a bail petition moved by Akhil’s lawyer Bijon Mahajan. Mahajan had submitted in the court there is no need for the police to take the accused in custody as he can also be interrogated in judicial custody.
Public prosecutor Ziaur Kamar, however, argued that the accused were required in police custody for detailed interrogation to unearth the pre-planned and well thought out conspiracy of motivating and abetting a poor man to self-immolate himself and to identify other persons involved in the crime.
Kamar said the possibility of the case later turning out to be a murder cannot be ruled out at this moment as the victim was brought to the spot where he immolated himself in a Tata Nano car with some inflammable material poured on him.
He also pointed out to the court that some photojournalists were already present at the spot much ahead of the incident, which raised questions they were informed by someone in advance, which means that it was a pre-planned act.
Moreover, Akhil had also threatened to disrupt Rahul Gandhi’s visit, Kamar submitted in court.
Following Akhil’s arrest, there were protests all over the state, including disruption of road and rail traffic. Over 300 protesters were either picked up or arrested during the protests.
In Guwahati, the police picked up a woman KMSS member who reached Panbazar police station around 2pm and threatened to immolate herself demanding Akhil’s release.
In Jorhat, the protest against Akhil’s arrest was led by his mother Priyada Gogoi at his native village of Lukhurakhon near Selenghat with over 50 KMSS activists, including several women, stopping the Mariani-Dibrugarh Intercity Express near Selenghat station this morning.
Akhil’s supporters blocked roads by burning tyres and staging sit-ins in Dibrugarh, Tinsukia, Sivasagar and Golaghat districts.
In Barak valley, KMSS activists blocked NH154 in the Sahabad area of Hailakandi district for an hour from 9.30am and 20 protesters were arrested by the police.
The protesters also blocked the Bairabi-Hailakandi passenger train for about three hours.
Effigies of chief minister Tarun Gogoi, revenue minister Prithibi Majhi and the police administration were burnt at Ghograpar, Mukalmua, Nalbari, Barpeta, Barpeta Road, Patshala, Goalpara and Lakhipur in lower Assam.
The activists also staged a road blockade at Lakhipur in Goalpara district and at Mukalmua in Nalbari district.
The KMSS in a press release this evening said the arrest of Akhil would not jeopardise the movement of the farmers and landless people. Rather it would strengthen the movement, the release added.
The release added that their members had staged protests at Gorchuk, Lichubagan and other areas in Guwahati to protest against the arrests.
KMSS secretary Kamal Kumar Medhi said national organisations like the National Alliance for People’s Movement, Ekta Parishad and writer Arundhati Roy have condemned Akhil’s arrest.
Reacting to Akhil’s arrest, Gogoi told reporters in Dibrugarh this evening that everyone was equal before law and the law would take its own course. “The government cannot run on Akhil Gogoi’s dictation,” he said on the sidelines of an official function.