In a move which is likely to polarise indigenous Assamese and immigrant Muslims in opposite directions, Maulana Badaruddin Ajmal-led All India United Democratic Front on Monday announced that it is going to field candidates in only three of the 14 Lok Sabha constituencies in Assam.
The move by the AIUDF is likely to be played by the BJP as an outcome of a secret pact between the AIUDF and the Congress as it allows the latter to pull immigrant Muslim voters in a number of constituencies to its fold. Consequently, it gives the BJP an opportunity to polarise the indigenous Assamese voters in favour of the BJP-AGP alliance.
The tacit understanding between the AIUDF and Congress (even though the Congress has denied it) is going to have a massive polarising impact not only in Assam but also in other states of North East India, which very recently experienced an anti-immigration movement after the BJP introduced the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, in the Parliament.
The bill, which aimed at granting citizenship to Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Parsi, Jain and Christian illegal immigrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, was widely protested in the region.
The Congress and the AIUDF had sided with the protesters against the bill, terming it communal legislation. But the BJP had alleged that the Congress and the AIUDF were misleading the people on the issue in a bid to fulfil anti-indigenous design.
The AIUDF’s decision benefitting the Congress is likely to be used by the saffron party as a fuel to fire indigenous sentiments against the grand old party.
In a press conference held at the party’s office in Guwahati, AIUDF spokesperson Aminul Islam said on Monday, "We hoped for a grand alliance against the BJP among the parties which opposed the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016. But it did not happen. Hence, in order to defeat the BJP and thus protect the indigenous culture and language, we have decided to field candidates only in the constituencies which elected our party candidates in the last Lok Sabha polls. We appeal the voters in the constituencies where we will field no candidate this time around to vote according to their conscience."
The announcement directly benefits the Congress, as a huge section of immigrant Muslims who earlier voted for the AIUDF, would possibly switch to Congress in the constituencies where the party does not field any candidates.
The AIUDF, which has its prime constituency among immigrant Muslims, had fielded candidates in eight constituencies in the 2014 Lok Sabha election. It won three seats namely Dhubri, Barpeta and Karimganj constituencies. The party was contemplating fielding a similar number of candidates in the upcoming polls too but decided against it.
A lack of seat-sharing agreement between the Congress and the AIUDF had till now made the path to victory for the BJP in the Lok Sabha polls appear smooth, just like in the 2016 Assembly polls in Assam. The BJP had contested the Assam Assembly polls in alliance with AGP and thanks to its comfortable seat-sharing agreement with the AGP, the BJP-AGP alliance had won the Assembly polls with a landslide.
However, this victory was also made possible because of the division of immigrant Muslim votes between the Congress and the AIUDF during the 2016 Assembly polls. The unexpected announcement from AIUDF now poses a new challenge for the BJP-AGP alliance in many constituencies.
The Congress, which had contested in 122 constituencies during the Assam Assembly polls had bagged 52,38,655 votes, whereas, the AIUDF which had fielded candidates in 74 constituencies had received 22,07, 945 votes. Their combined votes amounted to 74,46,600.
In the same election the BJP-AGP alliance had polled 63,69,667 votes together, which is 10,76,933 votes lesser than what the Congress and the AIUDF polled together.
If the votes of the Congress and AIUDF get combined in the upcoming Lok Sabha polls, which is likely to happen in a number of constituencies now, it may emerge as a serious threat to BJP’s dream for North East India.
Significantly, the indigenous Assamese and the immigrant population in Assam are two contesting identities.
In order to appear Assamese-friendly, the Congress has all along avoided any alliance with the AIUDF, a party that represents the aspirations of the immigrant Muslims.
Only last year, former chief minister and senior Congress leader Tarun Gogoi had denied any possibility of forming an alliance with the AIUDF and said, "We are opposing the BJP for being a communal party, but the AIUDF is also a communal party. In the last Assembly elections, the AIUDF played the B team for the BJP."
Gogoi, who held the Assam chief minister’s post for three consecutive terms defied repeated suggestion from the party high command to ally with the AIUDF. Rather when enquired by media about the possibility of an alliance with the AIUDF, once, Gogoi had defiantly said, “Who is Badaruddin?”
“Who is Badaruddin” became an iconic statement in the state’s politics representing the Congress chief minister’s Assamese chauvinism in the years to come. The Congress party twice came to power after AIUDF was born in the year 2005 posing serious threat to it.
It was widely believed that Congress would not ally with the AIUDF this time too. And it hasn't formally. But the Congress seems set to avail the benefits of an alliance with the AIUDF in many constituencies after the pro-immigrant party's announcement to limit the number of candidates to three.
And, the saffron party is likely going to cite the new equation set by the AIUDF as a secret pact between AIDUF and Congress, in a bid to increase polarisation of indigenous Assamese votes in its favour.
In fact, it appears to have already started as only two days ago, BJP national general secretary Ram Madhav said to the media, “In Assam, the Congress is in an unholy alliance with the AIUDF to face the BJP. We are confident that people of Assam will reject this unholy alliance.”
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Updated Date: Mar 26, 2019 17:36:30 IST