The Assam government came in for severe criticism from opposition parties and prominent personalities on Thursday after sedition charges were slapped against a Sahitya Akademi awardee litterateur and two other known faces for their remarks on the citizenship bill.
The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, however, defended the move and accused RTI activist Akhil Gogoi, against whom sedition charges were also slapped, of having links with Maoists and “terrorising” people with a “false issue” by campaigning against the bill.
The police on Thursday booked litterateur Hiren Gohain, Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti chief Gogoi and senior journalist Manjit Mahanta under sedition charges for their comments on the Citizenship Amendment Bill.
The Congress, the All India United Democratic Front, the Asom Gana Parishad along with the KMSS and the All Assam Students Union termed the police action as ‘‘unfortunate’’ and alleged it has been carried out at the behest of the BJP government in Assam.
The Congress slammed the Sarbananda Sonowal government which it said believes “Hitler as a hero”.
Leader of the Opposition in the assembly Debabrata Saikia accused the Sarbananda Sonowal government for harassing people who are speaking against the “anti-Assam” policies and are creating awareness about their undemocratic and autocratic ways.
‘‘Sonowal considers ‘Hitler’ as his hero and now it is certain that Hitlerian action will be taken on all those opposing his misconduct”, the Congress leader said.
AGP leader Prafulla Kumar Mahanta said it was indeed ‘‘sad and shameful” that a sedition case has been filed against intellectual and social thinker Hiren Gohain and two others’.
The government cannot silence the voice of the people and their sentiments too cannot be ignored, he added.
AIUDF spokesman Aminul Islam also condemned the move.
“We may not agree with them on many issues but it is unfortunate that the government is trying to stop democratic protests and gag the voice of the people,” he added.
KMSS chief Gogoi accused the BJP government at the Centre of trying to create an “Emergency-like situation” in Assam by attempting to suppress protests by people against the bill.
“The BJP government has gone mad and is trying to create an emergency like situation to suppress a spontaneous movement by the people of Assam against the bill,” he said.
“It is unfortunate that a learned ‘pandit’ like Gohain Sir has been targetted by the government and sedition charges filed against him.
“I am used to case upon case being filed on me and going to jail has become a lifestyle for me,” the KMSS leader, who is spearheading the agitation against the bill by 70 organisations, said.
All Assam Students’ Union chief advisor Samujjal Bhattacharya accused the BJP government in the state and Centre of “indulging in anti-national activities by going against the interest of the indigenous people and giving protection to Bangladeshis’’.
“We condemn the sedition case filed against a learned intellectual like Gohain whom we hold in high esteem and respect,” he said.
Describing Gohain as “Assam’s great thinker”, Nagen Saikia, who is also a Sahitya Akademi award winner said, “I may not agree with him on various issues but what he thinks is right, he says it with courage.”
“Ignoring the people of Assam against the bill, the central government is trying to stoke thoughts of cessation in the minds of people”, said the former president of Asom Sahitya Sabha - the apex literary body in Assam.
“Educated youths are going to ULFA. Instead of extinguishing the revolutionary flame in the people, the government is by itself igniting that fire”, he claimed.
Shortly after the sedition cases were registered, a panel of BJP spokespersons addressed a press conference claiming that Gogoi has Maoist links and is “terrorising” people with a “false issue” by campaigning against the bill.
“Akhil Gogoi is related with Maoists and other Left linked persons. He is a professional agitator. He is working to fulfil someone else’s political agenda,” BJP spokesperson Mominul Awal said.
Like an elephant, Gogoi also has two sets of teeth, he said.
“He shows people the outside teeth on the Hindu Bangladeshi issue, while he chews with the inner teeth sitting with Muslim Bangladeshis,” the BJP leader said, adding that Gogoi was “terrorising people with a false issue”.
Gohain, an eminent litterateur and retired Gauhati University professor, said that he had spoken thrice at the meeting and on all occasions “‘I had highlighted that Citizenship should be on the basis of secular principles and the rightly demand of the Assamese on the Citizenship Amendment Bill must be achieved by democratic means”.