New voice of minorities

New voice of minorities

New voice of minorities

Till 2005, none in the political circles of Northeast knew much about Badruddin Ajmal, except the fact that he runs a flourishing international perfume business and heads the Assam State unit of the Jamiat Ulema e Hind – the oldest Muslim organisation in the country.

But, nine years later, the short, chubby cleric with long pepper-and-salt beard has emerged as one of the most influential politicians of the region.

His party - All India United Democratic Front - is now the second largest in the Assam Assembly and is trying to expand its footprints in rest of Northeast and beyond.

The party also has three MPs from Assam in the newly elected 16th Lok Sabha.

Ajmal’s primary support-base in Assam comprises the Bengali-speaking Muslims, who are often indiscriminately branded as illegal migrants from neighbouring Bangladesh.

But he has of late succeeded in breaking the religious barrier to make inroads into linguistic minority and other communities, who find themselves marginalised in the social and political dynamics of Assam.

While it continues to focus on the issues concerning the religious minorities, the AUDF has been increasingly articulating its views on other problems – like inequality, backwardness, transport bottlenecks, lack of infrastructure, educational institutions and job opportunities.

No wonder, speaking in the Lok Sabha on June 11, he sought to draw the attention of the new government at the Centre to the problem of erosion by the river Brahmaputra in Assam.

“Brahmaputra has destroyed more than 1.27 lakh hectares of land in Assam in the last 25-30 years. Countless people of the state are rendered homeless for large scale devastation by the river,” Assam’s Dhubri MP told the House.

Ajmal, whose perfume business is spread from Mumbai to Dubai, made his debut in politics after the Supreme Court in 2005 scrapped the controversial Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunal) Act.

The influential All Assam Students’ Union and political parties like the Asom Gana Parishad and the BJP had blamed the IM (DT) Act for the slow pace of detection of illegal Bangladeshi migrants in Assam. }
But the state’s Bengali-speaking Muslims, who are often generally suspected as Bangladeshis, had perceived the legislation as a safeguard for them against undue harassment.

Muslim organisations led by Ajmal’s Jamiat Ulema e Hind slammed the Congress government for not seriously defending the IM (DT) Act and floated a party to give the state’s Muslims – the ‘deciding factor’ in at least 53 of the total 126 Assembly constituencies – a political alternative to the Congress.

His political rivals often accuse him and his party of pursuing a communal agenda and protecting the illegal migrants.

Ajmal, however, says that his party too wants all the illegal Bangladeshi migrants to be deported from Assam, but the process must be carried out according to the law of the land.

The AUDF made its debut in 2006 assembly polls effecting a huge dent in the Muslim vote-bank of the Congress, winning 10 seats and securing 9.03 per cent votes.

In the 2011 Assembly polls, the AIUDF won 12.57 per cent votes to bag 18 seats and emerge as the second largest party, replacing the AGP as the main opposition party.

The latest Lok Sabha election saw the party doing even better, its vote-share going up to 14.9 per cent.

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