The Army Chief Ignored a Crucial Reality: AIUDF's Political Trajectory Has Been on the Decline

General Bipin Rawat is perhaps not fully aware of the nature of Indian politics, where parties frequently change gear and shift sides.

The general has failed to take into account that AIUDF president Badruddin Ajmal had lost the 2016 assembly election in his own constituency. Credit: PTI

In suggesting a possible link between Assam’s All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) and ‘planned immigration’, General Bipin Rawat, Chief of Army Staff, has ignored a crucial reality.

The general has failed to take into account that AIUDF president Badruddin Ajmal had lost the 2016 assembly election in his own constituency to Wajid Ali Chaudhary, a Muslim candidate, fielded by the Congress. He has also ignored the fact that that the Congress, which performed badly in the 2016 polls, was voted out of power. In all, 13 AIUDF won seats that year.

The AIUDF’s performance stood in contrast to that of the Congress and its 15 Muslim nominees, all of whom won their seats. It should also be noted that the two Muslim candidates fielded by the BJP were also successful in winning their seats that year. The AIUDF’s results were somewhat unusual especially considering that the organisation had given tickets to more Muslim candidates than the Congress had.

One should not forget that in 2016, Badruddin Ajmal, the perfume baron-cum-politician lost the Muslim dominated Dhubri seat by a margin of over 14,000 votes. What is more: his constituency falls in the region having a sizeable population of Bengali-speaking Muslims and not Assamese-speaking Muslims, who mostly live in Upper Assam. Their voting patterns are different. From all accounts, it was an AIDUF stronghold and yet the 2016 result went against Ajmal.

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As a counterpoint to General Rawat’s comment about the expansion of the BJP since the 1980s, it can be argued that the party won only two seats in the 1984 Lok Sabha polls. Even Atal Bihari Vajpayee lost his Gwalior seat that poll year. But then political pundits had attributed Congress’s triumphant 1984 victory to the sympathy wave catalysed by the assassination of then prime minister Indira Gandhi. Five years later, the BJP bounced back to win 89 seats in the 1989 elections. If the AIUDF is really expanding at a faster rate than the BJP – as the general suggested – then the organisation should not have fared so badly in 2016. The BJP then should not have come to power in Assam.

This is not to underestimate AIUDF’s influence in Assam. Especially when you consider that its number of MPs has increased from one in 2009 to three in 2014. But supporters of both AIUDF as well as the BJP tend to exaggerate the organisation’s popularity in order to further their respective political ends. In the 2016 assembly polls, AIUDF and Congress fought separately, resulting in a division in Muslim votes. In addition, there was the anti-incumbency factor, hurting the three-time Congress chief minister Tarun Gogoi.

A combination of all these factors facilitated the BJP’s victory in Assam. Interestingly, a detailed analysis of the last assembly election revealed that many Muslims in Assam continue to believe that the Congress is still better-placed to take on the BJP.

Let’s now consider the political and electoral scenario of the AIUDF. Given Assam’s 34.22% Muslim population, AIUDF was expecting to win as many as something around 35 to 40 seats in 2016. The AIUDF leadership thought it could emerge as king-maker. But that was not to be. Efforts in the past to form an exclusively minority party in Assam too had floundered.

AIUDF started showing signs of decline after doing well in a couple of elections in the past.

Ajmal’s defeat has been a kind of eye-opener for the AIUDF chief. Its one thing to engage in philanthropic work, winning elections is quite another. There is a perception that the AIUDF may end up as a two or three-election phenomenon. This is the reason why it is now keen to forge political understanding with other parties.

General Rawat is perhaps not fully aware of the nature of Indian politics, where parties frequently change gear and shift sides. Just two years ago on the eve of 2016 assembly election, none other than the Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar, now a darling of the BJP, had unsuccessfully tried to form a Grand Alliance comprising Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), Janata Dal(United) and Congress in Assam. Efforts were made to bring Congress, AIUDF and Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) on a common platform. The talks failed because of the hard stance Tarun Gogoi took against Ajmal.

But neither the AGP nor JD(U) had then raised the issue of Bangladeshi infiltrators. In fact, Ajmal had even been invited by Nitish Kumar to his swearing in ceremony in Patna on November 20, 2015. Nitish was then busy forming an anti-BJP alliance at the national level so that he could emerge as a prime ministerial candidate in 2019 – a dream that he perhaps does not cherish any more.