GUWAHATI, APRIL 14: The All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) was expected to become what its predecessor, United Minorities Front, could not in the 1980s – a formidable defender of minority rights and the voice of immigrants when Assam was recovering from a violent anti-foreigners agitation.
But the sweet smell of success has of late been eluding the party that perfume baron Maulana Badruddin Ajmal had formed in 2005 after the Supreme Court scrapped the Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunal) Act, 1983. And after a dismal show in the panchayat election in December 2018, the party seemed to run out of steam.
The AIUDF has fielded candidates in the Barpeta, Dhubri and Karimganj Lok Sabha constituencies against the 6 it contested in 2014, winning 3 comfortably. Ajmal won the Dhubri seat, his brother Sirajuddin Ajmal Barpeta and Radheyshyam Biswas Karimganj.
Prior to the poll process, the AIUDF had announced it would field 8 candidates.
The party has retained the Dhubri and Karimganj candidates but replaced Sirajuddin Ajmal with Rafiqul Islam. “We are contesting only 3 seats this time after assessing our chances. We are not contesting elsewhere because we do not want the secular votes to be divided,” AIUDF general secretary Aminul Islam said.
Ajmal has always insisted that his party was not only for migrant Muslims, as projected by rivals.
“As our name suggests, we are a democratic set-up that is for all communities, whether migrant or indigenous. But an image has been created deliberately because of the beard and skullcap some of us sport,” he says.
But that did not stop the others, the Bharatiya Janata Party in particular, from indicating that the AIUDF equalled Bangladeshi. According to political scientist AR Dutta, the AIUDF’s alleged deal with the Congress, considered the beneficiary of some 30% Muslim votes before the AIUDF cut in, was a factor in the BJP winning an unprecedented 7 Lok Sabha seats in 2014 and the 2016 Assembly polls in Assam.
Justifying the BJP’s push for the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, Assam Finance Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma had in January used Ajmal as an example of “Jinnah’s legacy”. He said “Badruddin Ajmal will become the Chief Minister” if the constitutional rights of the indigenous people were not protected.
BJP president Amit Shah went a step further, saying Ajmal and former Congress CM Tarun Gogoi “plan to fill Assam with illegal migrants” for the sake of the political future of the latter’s son Gaurav Gogoi, the Congress candidate from the Kaliabor Lok Sabha seat.
“This is propaganda. The BJP is feeling the heat and is linking us with the party that provided a strong challenge to us in the past. If Congress had an understanding, candidates would not have been fielded where they are contesting,” the former CM said.
In Abdul Khaleque, MLA, and former Abu Taher Bepari, MLA, the Congress has strong candidates in Barpeta and Dhubri.
The AIUDF is believed to be suffering from a leadership vacuum. “We had high hopes. But the party failed to raise the issues it promised to, promoted a coterie culture to deny space to independent thinking,” former party leader Hafiz RA Choudhury said.
The party’s slide was apparent in the 2016 Assembly election when it won 13 seats – 5 fewer than in 2011 when it became the 2nd largest party – with a drop of 13% in vote share. It fared worse in the rural polls, managing to win only 26 zila panchayat seats, over 65% less than its 2013 tally. It was second to the Congress with 76 seats that year.
But the party said it has a lot of fight left in it, and that it would show in the outcome of Mandate 2019. (Courtesy: The Hindu)