Polarised politics presents opportunities for AIUDF’s growth in Assam
Guwahati: In the political scenario of Assam, the All-India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) has been considered a key player in the power shift in the state where as per the 2011 census, 34.22 per cent, that is, one-third of the total population, is constituted by Muslims. However, the increasing dominance of AIUDF in Assam politics had created a ground for the BJP to grow, leading to the saffron party to form the government in 2016.
In Assam’s political space, the arguments for a Muslim party gained ground in 1977, and Eastern India Muslim Association (EIMA) emerged in the state to cater to the political and economic interests of the community. The EIMA strongly opposed the association of Muslims with Congress and it became a part of the Progressive Democratic Front in the 1978 state elections.
In October 1978, the EIMA was dissolved and merged with the Indian Union Muslim League and re-emerged as Eastern Zonal Muslim League (EZML). But due to the Assam Movement that began in 1979, EZML could not sustain itself.
In 2005, the AIUDF was formed and the formation was actively led by the Muslim religious organization, Jamiat. AIUDF had shown continuous success in the last three state Assembly elections and unlike EIMA, stte politics had been influenced by AIUDF significantly.
The Supreme Court in July 2005 declared the Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunal), Act as �undemocratic’ and it was repealed which created fear among the immigrant Muslims in the state and therefore, the Assam unit of Jamiat came forward to address the issue.
Badruddin Ajmal, president of the Assam unit of Jamiat took lead to form a new political outfit the Assam United Democratic Front, of which hebecame the president. The outfit promised to safeguard the interests of the minorities of Assam.
The AIUDF as a party showed significant growth in the Assam Assembly elections between 2006 and 2011 but remained almost stagnant during 2011-2021, whereas the BJP showed surprising growth during this period.
The AIUDF contested mainly from middle and lower Assam districts of the Brahmaputra and Barak valleys, where the Muslim population is concentrated. In the 2021 Assembly election, AIUDF contested just 20 seats of the total 126 in the state and won 16 seats forming �Grand Alliance’ with the Congress, Bodoland Peoples Front (BPF), and CPI (M).
The immigrant Muslims of Assam had shown strong support for Congress and significantly helped Congress to stay in power after independence. To keep immigrant Hindu and Muslim communities living in the state within its fold, the Congress opposed the Assam Movement and imposed the IM (DT) Act on Assam.
However, the situation changed with the repeal of the IM (DT) Act by the apex court, AIUDF argued in support of immigrant Muslims and the party started to attract support from a large section of immigrant Muslims. When AIUDF won 10 seats in the 2006 Assembly election, the indigenous Assamese population began to believe that if one-third of the Muslims of the state rallied behind the party, it would come to power in the state very easily.
The Congress and veteran leader Tarun Gogoi exploited this fear of indigenous Assamese people and sharpened its attack on AIUDF and Badaruddin Ajmal. The 2011 Assembly election was fought against the backdrop of Muslim politics under AIUDF and the soft Hindutva of Tarun Gogoi-led Assam Congress and as a result, Congress came to power for the third consecutive term.
In the 2011 elections, AIUDF won 18 seats and emerged as the main opposition party in the Assam Legislative Assembly. This incident again made the indigenous Assamese uncomfortable and led to the situation where BJP and Hindu organizations started to gain ground in Assam.
Ajmal, inspired by the success of the 2011 Assembly elections, started divisive politics by delivering communally provocative statements; but these statements instead helped BJP significantly to unite Hindu votes against the AIUDF.
As a result of this, the state was completely communally polarised by AIUDF and BJP during the 2014 Lok Sabha election and both the parties showed unprecedented success in this election. Out of 14 Lok Sabha seats in Assam, AIUDF won three, BJP seven, while the ruling Congress could win only three.
In the run-up of 2016 Assembly elections, the BJP strategically targeted the immigrant Muslims who form the support base of the AIUDF and this way BJP tried to unite and consolidate Hindus behind it. BJP also tried to divide Muslim votes between Congress and AIUDF. BJP talked about the implementation of the Assam Accord and the upgradation of the NRC in Assam to consolidate the Hindu votes.
Muslim voters were confused with all the moves by BJP and remained divided. As a result, Congress had to struggle hard to attract voters and the AIUDF had to rely only on immigrant Muslims. To put an end to this vote share division, AIUDF and Congress allied in the 2021 Assembly election and fought against BJP forming �Grand alliance’ but this could not rescue both the parties against BJP. The alliance thereby came to an end with no success gained.
In Assam politics, the soft Hindutva approach of Congress made AIUDF relevant in the regional political spectrum, while to strengthen its own electoral success in the state, BJP strategically wants Muslim communalism to survive and thrive in the state.
Thereby the incumbent Himanta Biswa Sarma-led BJP government started hurting the sentiments of Muslims through different policies such as disbanding the Madrasa Board; withdrawing Friday holidays observed by the madrasas and converting them to normal schools; demolition of private-run madrasas; eviction drive in Muslim dominated areas –the long list has created new opportunities for the rise of AIUDF in Assam politics.