Scent and ascent: The AIUDF leader is the man to watch in Assam’s NRC-CAA politics

BJP’s Target No. 1 in Assam and Cong’s new ally, Ajmal, who founded the AIUDF in 2005, is also a perfume baron, with a family business spread over 50 countries, and a three-time MP from Dhubri.

One of the most divisive faces of Assam politics, Badruddin Ajmal has seen his stock rise even as the attacks on him increase, especially by the ruling BJP. The AIUDF leader who was in 2006 dismissed by then Congress Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi as “Badruddin who?” is now part of a Mahajot (grand alliance) forged by that party.

Ajmal, 65, who founded the AIUDF in 2005, is also a perfume baron, with a family business spread over 50 countries, and a three-time MP from Dhubri.

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The AIUDF holds sway over the Bengali-origin Muslim community of Assam, and this election, because of the uncertainties among them over the NRC, Ajmal’s role could be even more crucial. On Wednesday, Ajmal threatened to go to court after a fake video of his giving an incendiary speech surfaced.

In the 2016 polls the AIUDF had won 14 seats (the Congress in comparison got 19). In the 2019 Lok Sabha polls though, its tally had gone down from three to one.

As the BJP steps up attacks on “Miya” Muslims and the AIUDF in the run-up to the polls, AIUDF spokesperson Haidor Bora says it’s wrong to call it a “Muslim party”. “Every time, we field at least 30% non-Muslim candidates. In 2006, the first time we contested and won 10 seats, two of the winners were Hindu… Such perception is because of the continuous propaganda against us,” Bora said.

“The perception is that the party talks only for Muslims… but it’s not that,” says AIUDF office-bearer Masud Zaman. “For instance, Ajmal has worked for years to get a bridge connecting Dhubri to Phulbari in Meghalaya. The foundation stone was laid recently by Prime Minister Modi.”

What fans the “communal” charge against Ajmal, however, is that he is also the president of the Assam unit of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind, the largest socio-religious Muslim organisation of India. Religious preachers hold important positions in the party, and while it does talk about development of riverine islands, its agenda mostly revolves around controversies over the citizenship determination of minorities.

Bora says this election the AIUDF will raise issues related to both identity and development. “We will take up the completion of the NRC as per the Assam Accord, we will oppose the CAA … We will also take up the issue of wages of tea garden workers.”

The Congress, that has also come under attack from the BJP for aligning with Ajmal, dismisses allegations of him being “communal”. The formal pact came after years of speculation of a secret tie-up between the two parties. Says Congress MP Pradyut Bordoloi, “When you try to uplift a downtrodden community, without affecting any other community, how can you be communal?” He adds that the Congress would not hesitate to sever ties if it found the AIUDF was spreading hate.

In an interview with The Indian Express last month, Ajmal said attacks on him by BJP were “a very dirty formula” by its senior leader Himanta Biswa Sarma. “A formula to divide Assam’s people.”

Ajmal says he is ready for “sacrifices” to make the ‘grand alliance’ work. Dismissing rumours that he is angling for a Deputy CM or CM post, he says, “Removing the BJP from power is our one and only goal right now.”

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