Tug-of-war between Gogoi’s Congress and Ajmal’s AIUDF, optimistic BJP hopes for a split of Muslim vote.
As Assam closes polling on Monday, the big question is: Will the Muslims — a huge majority of whom have roots in erstwhile East Bengal and East Pakistan if not Bangladesh — shift towards the Congress or stay with Badruddin Ajmal’s AIUDF?
Of the 61 seats going to polls Monday, 28 have Muslims as a majority or a deciding factor. If they vote largely for the Congress, it will hurt the BJP and its allies. If they lean towards the AIUDF, or split between the Congress and the AIUDF, the BJP can look at forming its first government in Assam.
This is the first election in Assam where voters have by and large polarised on religious lines, especially in the second-phase districts that have undergone demographic changes in the past few decades. Earlier elections had various kinds of issues — from Bangladeshi influx to ULFA-led violence to development under Tarun Gogoi.
Muslims have drifted towards the AIUDF since Ajmal floated it in the backdrop of the Supreme Court scrapping the IM(DT) Act after describing Bangladeshi influx as a “silent external aggression” of Assam.
Muslims, who comprise 34 per cent of the population, were voting largely for the Congress except in 1985 when many went for the United Minorities Front of Assam, formed after Rajiv Gandhi signed the Assam Accord with AASU.
Ajmal is trying to keep Muslims with him despite losing many MLAs to the Congress; the BJP too has pushed Muslims to one side. The BJP-AGP-BPF combine has been telling voters this is the last chance to “protect” Assam from Bangladeshi infiltrators.
“This has immensely contributed towards this polarisation, which is definitely not a good sign, especially for a state known for its rich tradition of communal harmony,” said journalist Haidar Hussain. The BJP also kept telling the voters about a secret Congress-AIUDF alliance, accusing them of standing for the interests of Bangladeshis.
“The Muslims have realised they have been cheated by the AIUDF. The BJP, which cannot shed its Gujarat image, has scared them. The majority of them are looking at the Congress,” claimed three-time CM Tarun Gogoi. “What did Ajmal give them? They have suffered more since his emergence.”
APCC president Anjan Dutta said his party was sure of winning 13 seats in Dhubri, Barpeta and Goalpara – three minority-dominated districts that come under the Lok Sabha constituencies of brothers Badruddin and Sirajuddin Ajmal. “We will win 30-35 seats in the second phase,” Dutta said.
The Congress expects its new ally the United People’s Party, backed by the All Bodo Students’ Union, to restrict the BPF tally.
Meanwhile, a statement attributed to BJP top campaigner Himanta Biswa Sarma that the BJP could go back to 1951 as the cutoff for detecting infiltrators has brought a sense of unease among lakhs of Hindu Bengalis who had come as refugees during Partition. “If Himanta has really spoken about 1951 as cutoff, thousands of people voting for decades will feel insecure,” Gogoi said.
BJP president Amit Shah has clarified that the BJP would stick to the 1971 cutoff as defined in the Assam Accord. “Though the BJP has denied the statement, the Congress has already taken the issue to Bengali Hindus who would now probably not go all out for the BJP. If so, there is serious trouble ahead of the BJP-led alliance,” said Prasanta Rajguru, editor of Amar Asom, a leading daily.