Ajmal will be central to whatever happens to the BJP. If saffron party loses, Ajmal could be credited with uniting Muslim votes with Congress.
AIUDF chief Badruddin Ajmal (IE)
Assam Assembly Elections 2021: In a state locked a direct contest between Congress and the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, it would ordinarily be a surprise that Badruddin Ajmal is a name that has resonated the most all through the campaign for the three-phase Assam elections. Ajmal’s AIUDF is the third largest party after the Congress and the BJP in Assam. And if the third largest party allies with the largest party in the state, the results could be anyone’s guess — provided the rest of the factors remain constant, as we say, in economics. But in politics, past performance is no guide to future results. This is perhaps why the saffron party is battling it out with the eight-party Mahajuth (grand-alliance) and yet confident of returning to power despite the numbers heavily against it. To dislodge the BJP from power, the Congress has allied with seven other parties. But the most important of them all is Badruddin’s AIUDF. Just a simple addition of vote shares the two parties got in the previous election would put them ahead of the ruling NDA.
In the last election held in 2016, the saffron party’s vote share (29.5 per cent) was less than the Congress’ (30.9 per cent). The AIUDF cornered 13 per cent votes while the BJP-led NDA got 41.9 percent vote share. Nearly 31 per cent votes of the Congress and 13 per cent votes of the AIUDF are more than what the NDA partners together had got in 2016. NDA’s two other constituents were Asom Gana Parishad and Bodoland People’s Front, they together added 12 per cent votes (AGP-8.1 per cent) and BPF (3.9 per cent) The BPF is no more with NDA and has now joined hands with the Congress. This brings down NDA’s previous vote share to about 38 per cent and increases the Congress-led alliance’s number to 48 per cent. This crude calculation of vote shares might have prompted the Congress to ally with Ajmal.
Who is Badruddin Ajmal?
Founded in 2005, Ajmal’s AIUDF has so far contested three assembly elections and two Lok Sabha polls. This year’s election will be his fourth assembly contest. In the assembly polls, the AIUDF bagged 10 of 126 seats in 2006, 18 in 2011, and 13 in 2016. The highest was in 2011, when it got 18 seats with 13 per cent vote share. In the Parliamentary election, Ajmal’s party did slightly better in the first two polls in terms of vote share. In 2009, it won one seat with 16.3 percent vote share and three seats in the second election with 14.8 percent vote share. However, in 2019, Ajmal’s vote share came down by about half to just 7.8 per cent, and he could win just one seat. Barring 2019, Ajmal’s vote share has been between 13 to 16 per cent.
A perfume baron, Ajmal is hugely popular among Bangla-speaking Muslims, who have come from Bangladesh. Ajmal formed his outfit AUDF (now AIUDF) after the Supreme Court scrapped the Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunals) Act in 2005. The objective behind forming AUDF was to safeguard and protect the interest of Muslims who have crossed over to this side from Bangladesh. Ajmal’s majority of votes are concentrated in Lower Assam and Barak Valley. But he also has supporters in other Muslim-dominated regions in the state. His past performance suggests that his loyal support base is between 13 to 16 per cent. And if the Congress manages to get what it had got (31 per cent) in 2016, Ajmal’s 13 per cent and BPF’s 4 percent will make it almost impossible for the BJP to return to power.
‘Identity of Assam’
But this is just the one side of the story. Ajmal’s alliance with Congress has divided the Hindu voters backing the grand old party. Hindus too are afraid of Ajmal’s rise in the region and open backing to ‘Bangldeshi infiltrators’ in Assam. Rahul Gandhi’s open endorsement of Ajmal and calling him ‘identity of Assam’ may not go down well with the people battling to protect the culture and ethnicity of the eastern state. Prime Minister Modi and Amit Shah have successfully projected the Congress as a party siding with those openly backing ‘infiltrators’. This has found resonance among the voters fed up with influx in the state. The BJP would be a direct beneficiary of the votes slipping out of Congress. Political analysts also say that the BJP has done a lot of work in the last five years, it has built roads, highways, bridges, launched a number of welfare schemes like free rice, distributed gas, monthly assistance to women under Orunodoi — the beneficiaries are likely to reward the BJP.
Then there is The Third Front, alliance of two newly formed parties Assam Jatiya Parishad (AJP) of Lurinjyoti Gogoi and Raijor Dal of Akhil Gogoi. The BJP expects them to cut into some of the anti-CAA votes. Himanta Biswa Sarma, BJP’s chief strategist in Assam has admitted that the formation of AJP and Raijor Dal will divide the anti-CAA votes. But the BJP’s biggest roadblock could be Ajmal’s loyal voter base which has stood like a rock with him. Strange as it may sound, Ajmal will be central to whatever happens to the BJP. If saffron party loses, Ajmal could be credited with uniting Muslim votes with Congress. But if the BJP wins, and this will happen only when the Congress loses some of its votes, Ajmal will be seen as someone responsible for that — counter polarisation. But which way Assam is going will be known only on May 2.