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The BJP-led government in Assam has registered at least 245 cases of offences against the state, including sedition, since it came to power in 2016, the latest being that against three prominent individuals for their comments during protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill.

In a written reply in Assamese to a question by Leader of Opposition Congress’s Debabrata Saikia, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Chandra Mohan Patowary informed the state Assembly Monday that a total of 251 cases of ‘deshdrohita’ — offences against the state — were filed against individuals and outfits starting May 2016. In the IPC, Offences Against State include Sections 121, 121A, 122, 123 and 124A (which pertains to sedition).

The main reply mentioned the figure as 251 but the attached annexure showed the repetition of districts Biswanath (5 cases) and Sadiya (1 case). Patowary was answering on behalf of Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal, who holds the Home portfolio.

Congress’s Saikia had asked the government how many people were booked for “deshdroh” by the government. The response did not elaborate on the specific charges against the booked individuals but the data — signed by a senior official of the CID — shows that majority of the cases are registered against members of militant outfits, including the ULFA-I and others representing different ethnic communities of the state. The response also did not mention the date of registration of the cases.

Kokrajhar district tops the list — 88, booking militants affiliated with Bodo extremist outfits and the Kamatapur Liberation Organisation (KLO), and the National Santhal Liberation Army (NSLA) and its faction that is against talks.

Chirang comes next — 43, largely against Bodo militants. In upper Assam’s Tinsukia district, 40 cases of sedition were filed, mostly against militants affiliated with the United Liberation Front of Assam- Independent (ULFA-I) and a few against those of the Naga outfit NSCN (K).

Kokrajhar and Chirang are part of the Bodoland Territorial Area District (BTAD), while Tinsukia, home to different communities, was rocked by insurgency in the 1990s.

According to NCRB data of 2014, 56 cases with charges of “offences against the state” were registered in Assam — the highest in the country, accounting for 31.8 per cent of the total in this category. But only one of 56 had section 124A, and the other 55 had the other sections. In 2015, 22 cases were registered in Assam pertaining to sections of Offences Against the State — but not including 124A.

Guwahati city has had only one sedition case registered in the given period — in January, prominent Assam academic Dr Hiren Gohain, activist Akhil Gogoi and journalist Manjit Mahanta were booked on charges of sedition for their comments during a protest against the Bill.

The complaint was registered by officer-in-charge of Latashil police station Upen Kalita and it stated that Gogoi criticised the Bill in his speech and talked about “initiating a struggle for a sovereign Assam, independent of India”.

In fact, another sedition case was filed against activist Gogoi in Dibrugarh district in 2017. In connection with this case, Gogoi was arrested in September 2017 for allegedly instigating people in a public speech to take up arms against the government. Both the Guwahati and Dibrugarh cases against Gogoi had Section 124A (sedition). Gogoi remains a fierce critic of the BJP and the RSS and is one of the key leaders spearheading the ongoing agitation against the Bill.

Saikia told The Indian Express, “There could be genuine cases — and we don’t have any problem with them — but booking people like Dr Gohain or Akhil Gogoi for sedition simply shows the undemocratic practices carried out by the BJP. They complain against the Emergency but then look at what they are doing — booking anyone who criticises the government with sedition.” Among other districts, 19 cases were filed in Cachar, 18 in Golaghat and 11 in Dima Hasao.