Connecting Regions of Asia.

AIUDF-Congress Alliance In Assam

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Slowly but inexorably, certain regions  of India are getting communally polarised. Somewhat underreported  in the national media, a religiously divisive trend affecting Hindus and Muslims is  striking deep roots, in Assam and West Bengal. As  things stand, the next round of state Assembly elections in  both states  may well  be  dominated by considerations of   the religious identities of major groups of  people.  Recent developments in these states   can  be better understood  in the larger context of  what happened in  1947, when communal politics did prevail  in India over secular ideals. For Assam the present situation may have  taken a communal turn now that the Indian National Congress(INC) and the  All India United Democrat Front(AIUDF)  have decided to come together in alliance to defeat the ruling BJP. 
 For   the INC, the oldest national party in India and  the biggest opposition force in India  sworn to  uphold the principles of secularisn and democracy  as its policy, any partnership with the AIUDF  could prove  a high risk proposition. Its long term losses may outweigh its immediate gains.   Despite  periodic announcements  from its leaders to the contrary, the AIUDF  stands for only Muslims in Assam. Therefore its role is not very different from parties or groups like  various Muslim –dominated groups/parties  or partie in Kerala, Bengal  or Telengana .Their activities  are generally confined within the borders of the state they belong to.  They may   win a few  seats at the national or the state level  elections. They have often form part of ruling coalitions at the state/municipal  levels, too.  Usually   the initiative to join a coalition  comes from them out of an unstated  motive to enjoy a slice of administrative power.
But the AIUDF is also somewhat different from other similar parties.  It has over the years garnered major support from Assam-based Muslims, the majority of them Bengali-speaking.  Its leader Badruddin Ajmal MP believes in keeping on the right side of Assamiya mainstream  currents  . He opposes illegal infiltration from Bangladesh and supports the Assam accord. This makes him  acceptable to the Congress, as explained a few days  by state party President Mr, Ripun Bora.
Until recently, the INC  leaders used to treat the AIUDF as an outfit that really helped the BJP to grow in Assam.  It was called the B team of the BJP.  The  near 35%+  Muslim vote  which was won in bulk by the Congress for decades, ensuring it a comfortable victory for years, now gets divided with the AIUDF  claiming a major share.   The AIUDF responded to such charges  by pointing to the failures of the INC to live up to the growing challenge of the BJP .   And,the INC also failed to do much for Muslims, said Ajmal. The continuous and apparently irreversible decline of the Congress  endangered  the minorities, especially the Muslims, in Assam . As things stood, Muslims in Assam  were always suspected of being illegal Bangladeshi setters and faced much discrimination in all spheres of life.  There was little doubt that the AIUDF would try to emerge  as a protector of Muslim interests and aspirations.
Significantly, the  AIUDF has proved to the first Muslim oganisation to appreciate the  inherent strength   and  political challenge posed by the community in terms of their growing numbers, infiltration or not. From dominating only 4 out of 20-odd districts in Assam during the nineties, Muslims have now emerged as the majority population in 11  out of 34 districts in the state.  They are poised to  become a majority in 4 more soon.    Clearly there is greater awareness of their growing clout among them , carrying  with it  a corresponding community-based  awareness that they are politically no pushovers.
Given this backdrop of declining INC fortunes  and the emergence  of the BJP  in Eastern Indian states like Bihar , Bengal and Odisha in recent years, a Muslim consolidation   in the region was only a matter of time. The AIUDF merely seized the moment and established itself as a factor to reckon with.  Its  emergence is also a clear signal to Muslims not to depend on the INC  only  to protect  them. Now they have  their own  political  instrument capable of  setting  its own terms to opponents or  partners/allies alike.
Assam’s Education Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma  has hit the nail on the head , pointing out that the AIUDF stands for only itself and the interests of the Muslims. Along with other state and central BJP leaders, he is as  worried as anybody else about the prospects of an INC/AIUDF alliance. The consolidation of Muslim votes going over to the coalition would make it tough for the BJP to win, because the Hindu Assamiya and  Bengalis do not always constitute a single homogeneous voting group, having sharp differences among themselves.   
Is Mr. Sarma right  in expressing  his fears of a Muslim takeover in Assam if   parties like the AIUDF  ever achiever power, whether in coalition or by other means ?
The answer is, such a possibility may seem remote as of now, but cannot be ruled out.  The AIUDF stands for Muslim empowerment .Period.  Even in a coalition, though Ajmal has announced that he will not press for the Chief Minister’s chair, the fact is  given the continuing bleeding of the INC, the bigger party may well remain in effect a pliant partner of the AIUDF, which can forcefully drive its own community-driven agenda.    Worse , the INC may lose many  Bengali Hindu votes in Assam whereas  while  Muslims may vote for the AIUDF in major numbers. The INC  stands to lose further ground in Assam on the long term, by aligning with the AIUDF .  
 Moreover,  the INC will suffer a major loss of image prestige and credibility, by aligning with a party perceived to be communal,  which would all be grist to the Bjp’s  propaganda  mill  in the coming  years.       The very fact of  the INC’s  aligning with the AIUDF will be  publicly seen as an opportunism move,  as a sure sign of its desperation  to come out of the cold and rule Dispur again—-and never mind political principles !   It will be the clearest affirmation  made by the INC itself that it cannot  win in Assam on its own steam any more . Having been thus reduced, it will not hesitate to become a junior partner in any formation even if it is dominated by a communal outfit.
That would be the sum total of the political message of any INC/AIUDF coalition. It is time for senior leaders like Tarun Gogoi and others to  appreciate this.
(A veteran journalist, Ashis Biswas is news editor at Easternlink)

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