WANING SCENT OF SAFFRON
India Today|September 14, 2020
WANING SCENT OF SAFFRON
A CONGRESS-AIUDF ALLIANCE, ANTI-CAA SENTIMENT AND HIMANTA BISWA SARMA’S LONG-STANDING AMBITION MAY MAKE THE GOING TOUGH FOR BJP-AGP
Kaushik Deka

HAND IN HAND Badruddin Ajmal and Tarun Gogoi emerge after filing the nomination for the joint Rajya Sabha candidate, March 2020

The speculation about a pre-poll alliance between the Congress and the Badruddin Ajmal-led All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) and the signs of dissent within the state unit of the ruling BJP have created new electoral arithmetic in Assam even though the assembly election is seven months away. Several top leaders of the Assam Congress have publicly said that they favor a pre-poll alliance with all anti

BJP parties, including AIUDF. “We are entering into an alliance with the AIUDF in the greater interest of the people of Assam,” Congress veteran and former Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi recently said in Guwahati.

On paper, the tie-up between the two parties could give them an edge in over 50 of Assam’s 126 assembly seats by preventing a split of the Muslim vote. Both parties bank heavily on their support given that the community makes up 35 per cent of the state’s population. In fact, the Assam-born and Mumbai-based perfume baron Ajmal floated the AIUDF in 2005 to protect Banglaspeaking Muslims from harassment, considering they are often perceived as illegal settlers from Bangladesh.

Things have certainly come a long way since 2006, when Gogoi had, in the run-up to the state election that year, asked: “Who is Badruddin?” AIUDF won 10 seats that year and 18 five years later, becoming the largest opposition party in the assembly. The party’s tally dipped to 13 in 2016. Gogoi continued calling AIUDF a “communal” party and the BJP’s B team that fields candidates to eat into Congress votes. Most Congress leaders, including Gogoi, believed an alliance with the AIUDF, which is perceived to be a party protecting immigrant Muslims, could alienate the Hindu vote, more so given the BJP’s communal polarisation.

The saffron party, on the other hand, has always alleged a secret Congress-AIUDF pact. While there have been murmurs about such an alliance, the two parties have never had an official pact for the assembly or Lok Sabha election. In the 2019 Lok Sabha poll, the Congress won three of Assam’s 14 seats, all in the minority-dominated areas. The AIUDF did not field any candidate in two seats, hinting at an unofficial understanding. The ‘friendship’ was out in the open this March when Gogoi and Ajmal walked out of the state assembly, hand in hand, after filing the nomination of the Congress-AIUDF joint candidate, senior journalist Ajit Kumar Bhuyan, for the Rajya Sabha election.

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September 14, 2020