With the first phase of polling in 65 assembly constituencies in Assam over, all eyes are now on the second and the final phase of polling in remaining 61 seats to be held on 11 April in which the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF), the principal opposition party in the stat, has high stakes.
Of the 18 seats won by the AIUDF in 2011 assembly polls, 17 came from these 61 seats in the Brahmaputra valley. Speculations are rife whether the AIUDF would be able to thwart the Congress game plan of making inroads in its support base among Muslim voters of erstwhile East Bengal origin. Maulana Badruddin Ajmal, who floated the AIUDF in 2005, has played the “kingmaker” card in a bid foil the Congress attempt and claimed that no party would be able to form the government without the support of his party.
After missing the bus twice in 2006 and 2011, Maulana Ajmal desperately wants to be the kingmaker this time. His hope stems from his party’ performance in 2014 Lok Sabha polls when the AIUDF candidates polled the highest votes in 24 assembly segments- 17 in the Brahmaputra valley and five in the Barak valley.
However, the Congress hopes to regain the support of the Muslim voters of erstwhile East Bengal origin who enrol themselves Assamese speakers in population Census and speak Assamese as well Bengali dialects. The percentage of Assamese speakers declined to 48.80 in 2001 from 57.81 per cent in 1991. The percentage of Bengali speakers in the state increased to 27.54 percent in 2001 from 21.67 per cent in 1991. The language break-up of 2011 Census has not yet been made public.
The ruling party is under the impression that the Muslim voters of erstwhile East Bengal origin, who decide about 30 seats,are in search of a national party which will insulate them from an aggressive Hindutva politics of the saffron brigade and this election brings an opportunity for the Congress to present itself as an alternative to the AIUDF and to regain the lost support base.
Maulana Ajmal floated the AIUDF in 2005 after the Supreme Court scrapped the erstwhile Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunal) Act 1983. The AIUDF won 10 seats in its debut electoral performance in 2006 assembly polls by causing huge erosion in Congress support base among the Muslim voters of erstwhile East Bengal origin. The AIUDF played upon the apprehension that gripped these voters that scrapping the of controversial piece of legislation would leave them vulnerable to harassment in the name of identification of foreigners and thus won their support on the campaign that the Congress failed to fight an effective legal battle to prevent scrapping of the erstwhile act and had used it only as a political weapon to woo the minority votes.
In 2009 Lok Sabha polls, the AIUDF consolidated its gains by wresting the Dhubri Lok Sabha from the Congress and in 2011, it became of the principal opposition party with 18 seats pushing the state’s main regional party- the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), which had won only ten seats, to the second position. However, incumbent Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi and his party kept the AIUDF out of power and chose to the Bodoland People’s Front (BPF), as the coalition partner in 2006 and in 2011.
A sharp polarisation of votes on the religious lines in 2014 helped the AIUDF to win three of the total Lok Sabha seats when it wrested two more seats Barpeta and Karimganj from the ruling Congress apart from retaining Dhubri seat and equaled its tally with the ruling party.
The Congress, however, has used the ongoing process of the updating of the National Register of Citizens to showcase it as a permanent solution to vexed foreigners issue and as a key tool to protect genuine Indian citizens from undue harassment and claiming credit for it, to win back the support of the Muslim voters of erstwhile East Bengal origin.
The ruling party hopes that the aggressive ‘Hindutva’ line of the BJP and the announcement by the party in power at the Centre that the Hindu Bangladeshis would be given shelter and Indian citizenship but Muslim Bangladeshi migrants will be driven out, will further push the AIUDF supporters towards the Congress.
Dissidence within the AIUDF has also emboldened the Congress. Five AIUDF legislators have quit the party after being denied party tickets and four of them joined the Congress. The Congress has given tickets to two of them.
The BJP and its two allies—AGP and the BPF--are running the campaign the Congress and the AIUDF have reached tacit understanding and if the two parties succeed in coming to power it will pose grave threat to identity of indigenous Assamese people as both the parties “are protectors of Bangladeshis migrants.” The Congress, on the other hand, has accused the BJP of reaching a secret pact with the AIUDF to prevent the Congress from retaining power for the fourth consecutive term by fielding candidates in upper Assam areas to cut into votes of the ruling party.
The AIUDF has forged an electoral alliance with the JD (U) and the RJD and invited the Congress and the AGP to joint it which is seen as a desperate attempt by Maulna Ajmal to showcase AIUDF’s political importance to its supporters. Neither the RJD nor the JD (U) has any noticeable presence in the state.
These political developments have triggered the speculation in the political circle if Maulana Ajmal would miss the bus this time too?
The author is Editor, nezine.com. Views are personal.