Will Badruddin Ajmal’s slide help Congress in Assam?

Will Badruddin Ajmal’s slide help Congress in Assam?

AIUDF chief Badruddin Ajmal in Guwahati. Photo by Manash Das, Guwahati

Perfume baron Maulana Badruddin Ajmal’s decision to contest only three of the 14 Lok Sabha seats in Assam has made many believe that the Muslim votes would swing to the Congress in the April 18 and April 23 elections for nine seats in the state.

The All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF), the party led by Ajmal is contesting in Dhubri, Karimganj and Barpeta constituencies, having majority Muslim voters even as it had earlier decided to fight in seven seats.

In 2014, the AIUDF, which is seen as a party championing the cause of Muslims, had contested in six seats and comfortably won three. Ajmal himself had won in Dhubri for the second time, while his brother Sirajuddin Ajmal and Radheshyam Biswas, a Bengali Hindu, had bagged Barpeta and Karimganj seats respectively.

The party this time has retained the candidates in Dhubri and Karimganj but replaced Sirajuddin with comparatively weak candidate Rafiqul Islam. Elections for five seats—Jorhat, Dibrugarh, Lakhimpur, Kaliabor and Tezpur was held on April 11.

Ajmal’s move although surprised many in the party, the BJP attributed it to “a secret understanding” between the AIUDF and the Congress.

“Both Congress and AIUDF are worried over the BJP’s growing popularity in Assam and in the rest of the country. Fearing a dismal show, they have stitched an unholy alliance,” BJP general secretary and in-charge of Northeast, Ram Madhav said here recently.

Ajmal said that the decision was taken in order to allow non-BJP candidates win in rest of the seats but Tarun Gogoi denied any understanding with the AIUDF. Ajmal said that he considered the BJP as his enemy number one but did not give a clear answer about the “secret understanding” with the Congress.

Many in the BJP said that as per the “secret agreement,” the AIUDF did not field a candidate in Kaliabor to allow Gaurav Gogoi, son of former chief minister Tarun Gogoi to retain the seat, while Congress fielded comparatively weak candidates in Dhubri and Karimganj, where Muslim voters are the deciders.

“So the Muslim votes will come back to us this time,” a Congress worker said.

Ajmal had entered Assam politics by forming the AIUDF in 2005, when the Supreme Court had struck down the controversial Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunal) Act 1983 Act, which was considered a shield for migrant Muslim voters, who often are suspected as “illegal migrants” from neighbouring Bangladesh.

The party’s surge—from five Assembly seats in 2006 to 18 in 2011 had not just surprised many but even came as a challenge to the Congress to retain the state’s nearly 33% Muslim votes in its fold. AIUDF’s Lok Sabha count also increased from one to three in 2014 elections.

However, Ajmal’s party’s slide was apparent in 2016 Assembly elections when the BJP formed its first government in Assam and the AIUDF won only 13 seats. Many in the AIUDF said that Muslim voters were unhappy as they could do very little to help the NRC dropouts. Nearly half of the 40.07 lakh applicants, who did not figure in the draft NRC are Muslims. The NRC is being updated in Assam to segregate “foreigners.”