Dhubri: Ever since the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) was formed in 2005, it has been branded by many as a party of ‘miyas‘ (denoting Muslims of Bengali origin in Assam) and anti-Assamese. It was always the ‘other’ in Assam’s political landscape, and the Congress even labelled it a “communal” party.
This assembly election in Assam, however, marks a watershed in a way. With the ‘Mahajot’ — a Congress-AIUDF-Left alliance — the political isolation of perfume baron Badruddin Ajmal’s party ends, reflecting its switch to the conventional and mainstream side. Ajmal’s party is contesting in 21 of the state’s 126 assembly seats.
While the main purpose of this alliance is to prevent the division of the minority vote — a significant 35 per cent of Assam’s electorate — how that translates on the ground remains critical. Like any new alliance, the question of whether the vote transfer will happen is significant. In this case, what is also important is to see whether this alliance will be accepted by both the Assamese-speaking and Bengali-speaking Muslim.
Since the ascent of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Assam, a greater sense of insecurity has engulfed the Muslims, particularly the indigenous people — a feeling they had not really known in the Congress or Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) era. The Mahajot is also an attempt to tap into that insecurity and cater to the desire of the Muslim voter to vote the BJP out.
Muslim voters on the ground feel the alliance will help consolidate the minority vote, especially in seats where it is dominant, and give it an advantage over the BJP-AGP combine.
Most voters ThePrint spoke to said that, irrespective of whether they voted for the Congress or the AIUDF earlier, they will support whichever party has put up a candidate in their seat under the alliance.
“I used to vote for the Congress earlier but now there is an AIUDF candidate. It doesn’t matter, I will now support the AIUDF. It is important to keep the Muslim vote intact and not allow it to get divided,” said Zakir Hussain of Bilasipara.
This sentiment seems to be the prevalent one, and more the norm than an aberration.
“Congress and AIUDF are together this time, so the latter has put up a candidate. Earlier, I supported the Congress, but this time, since it is a coalition, I will support the AIUDF candidate. This alliance is a good thing. Earlier, in our seat, the Muslim vote would get divided between the AIUDF and the Congress, and the BJP had won. But this time, we are hopeful the vote will not split,” says Bakhtar Ali of Dhubri district.
Abdul Islam of Samaguri in Nagaon said they now think of the AIUDF and the Congress as one since they are fighting the polls together, and the candidate is inconsequential.
In a way, the vote transfer seems to be happening fairly seamlessly on the ground, despite the fact that, in the past, the Congress and the AIUDF have fought for the same share of the pie. Further, the transfer seems to be happening among both Assamese- and Bengali-speaking Muslims.
Not everyone, of course, is as convinced. There are obviously staunch loyalists on both sides who feel dejected that their party has not put up a candidate.
“I have been a Congress loyalist, but this time, there is an AIUDF candidate instead. I don’t want to vote for that party. I might support the BJP. Their current MLA from this seat has done a lot of work,” says Tasimuddin of Bilasipara.
The larger sense, however, and even the larger emotion, seem to be in favour of the Mahajot.
The Muslim voter of Assam wants what all constituents do — good roads, electricity, water, jobs, amenities like education and medical care as well as access to government welfare schemes.
But there is one difference.
The fear and insecurity among Assam’s Muslim population has grown with the rise and rise of the BJP, and with the hyphenation of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) by the ruling party.
Recall state minister Himanta Biswa Sarma’s Jinnah comments and the assertion that Hindus will become a minority in the state if CAA isn’t brought in. Or BJP’s more recent promise to tackle “love jihad” and “land jihad” in the state if voted back to power, an assurance mentioned in its manifesto too, as well as protect Assam’s civilisation from “fundamentalists and Islamic aggression”.
While ‘love jihad’ is now a known term, ‘land jihad’ is a novel concept and again, targeted at the minority community.
For the Muslim voter of Assam, therefore, the alliance has come as a ray of hope to end what they see as systematic targeting by the ruling party.
“The BJP works only for the Hindus. They tell us we are not needed. If they don’t want us, we don’t want them. Are we not humans? Should we be spoken about and treated this way? The BJP discriminates against us. We are deprived of government schemes and benefits. Our MLA from BJP-AGP combine is communal and treats us with contempt,” said Suraj Jamal Sarkar of Bilasipara.
Muhammad Aslam of Barpeta agrees. “Since the BJP came to power in the state, we have been treated badly. Yes, they have improved roads and built bridges, but with Muslims, their attitude is always discriminatory.”
The political stakeholders, meanwhile, have their own take on the alliance to suit their politics.
“Where is the BJP state president contesting from? He is not contesting from the seat he won the last time. Why? Because there is a CPI(M) candidate there and the alliance is so strong that the BJP state president is afraid that he has run away to another seat. This is how effective this alliance is. This is a broad-based and strong alliance,” Congress leader and Kaliabor Member of Parliment Gaurav Gogoi told ThePrint.
BJP, on its part, sees this as an opportunity to punch holes in the “Congress being a secular party” theory, and branding it a communal one.
“See, it is very simple. Our aim has been to question the concept of the Congress being a secular party, and, more importantly, expose its flirting with soft Hindutva. This alliance with a party that is so overtly a Muslim party, and one that actually has the support of who we call infiltrators, gives us the perfect opportunity to pitch Congress as a communal force. This is useful for us not just in Assam, but across India,” said an Assam BJP leader who did not wish to be identified.
(Edited by Myithili Hazarika)
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