Jyoti Lal Chowdhury in Silchar
AFTER United Minorities Front (UMF) floated in the 1980’s failed to strike, it was perhaps left to the wily and wise Badruddin Ajmal, a perfume baron with middle east connections, to form All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) under his leadership to unite the linguistic and religious minorities of the state as well as other groups as an alternative to Congress, AGP (Asom Gana Parishad) and BJP with an eye on the citadel of power at Dispur.
Under the façade of secularism and with abundant resources at his command, Ajmal’s party jumped into the poll fray in 2006 assembly elections and its debut performance with 12 seats in the 126 member House took political observers by surprise. In the Lok Sabha polls of 2009, the party could win 1 of the 14 seats. There was no looking back since then as the assembly poll results of 2011 took the tally of AIUDF from 12 to 18.
More jolts and jerks awaited for its three main political opponents in the panchayat elections of February 2013. In its first ever contest for rural polls in 2007, AIUDF won 40 Zilla Parishad seats to increase the tally to 70. Brimming with confidence, Badruddin Ajmal has now set the target for Lok Sabha polls of 2014 and is confident of bagging 5 seats. And by 2016 when the next assembly polls are held, the results, as he claimed before the media, will crown him with the chief ministership of Assam, which created political storm.
Is AIUDF supremo making the claim in void to gauge the mood of the people of a state caught in the coil of the python of influx of aliens? AGP and others might dismiss it as “day dreaming” and “wishful thinking” of Ajmal, the ground realities can hardly be ignored. AIUDF’s growing clout in the state politics as the second biggest opposition in the assembly with all fairness has rattled and sent ripples in the body polity of the state.
Several factors are attributed to the expanding base and support of the party. The “vote-bank” politics that the Congress has been playing since the first general elections of 1952 has its own dark shadows. This policy has encouraged unabated influx from East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, despite warnings by British experts on demography starting from Lloyd in 1911, CS Mullan in 1921 and JP Mills in 1931 down to Bhagaiwala ICS, census superintendent, in 1951. All of them cautioned about the alarming situation developing in the state of Assam due to infiltration. But, political survival or sticking to power has always been the ‘obsession with Congress’.
As a natural corollary to it, the influx of aliens has not only gone to swell the votes of Congress but also turned the population of the indigenous people in 6 of the 27 districts of the state which included Karimganj, Hailakandi, Dhubri, Goalpara, Nagaon and Barpeta, while 4 others are on the way. During its long 47 years of the rule of the state, Congress has never been serious on the burgeoning issue.
In the aftermath of the Bodoland violence of July 2012, there is rethinking among the Muslims about their traditional support to Congress as they have suffered a lot in the clashes. Political analysts point out AIUDF which has made significant inroads in the Muslim dominated areas is likely to increase its acceptance level in other belts with their significant presence.
Quite significantly, of the 18 MLAs and 1 MP are elected from the Muslim majority districts and constituencies. The phenomenal rise and growth of AIUDF has upset the apple cart of Congress in a number of constituencies. Like once bitten twice shy, Badruddin has been playing his twin card of “secularism and communalism” quite dexterously, depending upon the situation to ensure that Muslim votes do not split.
This he displayed rather quite brazenly during the last February 24 assembly by-poll of Algapur constituency in Hailakandi district, an AGP fortress since 1985 held by Sahidul Alam Choudhury, minister and close confidant of Prafulla Kumar Mahanta. He called upon the Muslims to support AIUDF candidate, Mehbubul Hussain Laskar. It was an “unprecedented polarisation and communalisa-tion” of electoral battle that saw Congress candidate, Mandira Roy, wife of influential Minister of Assam, Gautom Roy, just scrape through with a slender margin of 915 votes. It was an ominous signal for the future, commented political observers.
A look at the strength of the political parties in the state assembly and their share of votes with the emergence of AIUDF gives an indication of the shape of things to come. In respect of vote share, Congress got 39%, followed by AIUDF 12%, BPF 6%, BJP 11% and AGP 16%.
A worried Congress with its eroding traditional “vote-bank” has now taken to its another well known strategy of “appeasement of the minorities” to woo back the Muslims from AIUDF. Digvijay Singh, in charge of Assam, who held conclave with the Chief Minister, Tarun Gogoi, ministers and MLAs at Dispur in the early part of April, citing the instances of several states, justified reservation of jobs for Muslims on population pattern. This led to serious resentment among the local people, Vanvasis and non-Vanvasis. But, the sharpest criticism came from the senior most leader and MLA of the party, Abdul Muhib Mazumdar, who described it as an act of hypocrisy. Job on population pattern, he reminded the Chief Minister, was agreed in principle during the time of Hiteswar Saikia, former CM in the 80’s, but never followed. Without mincing words, it could well be said Congress “vote-bank” politics has boomeranged to boost up AIUDF. There is also no denial of the fact Muslim immigrants have become the fulcrum of power politics in Assam.