The politics of polarisation seems to have divided Assam’s numerically strongest minority community into Bengali-speaking ‘migrant’ Muslims and ‘indigenous’ Assamese Muslims.
The BJP, keen on forming its first government in the state with regional allies, is wooing the Assamese Muslims ahead of the polls on April 4 and 11.
The Assamese Muslims, whose forefathers came to the state eight centuries ago, number around 40 lakh — 33% of the total Muslim population (1.2 crore) in Assam.
The 2011 census puts the number of Muslims in Assam at 34.22% of the total population.
NGOs representing Assamese Muslims have for years resented being equated with their Bengali counterparts “because of religion”. They have also blamed successive governments for letting Bengali Muslims get the lion’s share of welfare schemes, jobs, financial and political benefits.
The BJP has used this sore point to record a nine-fold increase in its membership of Assamese Muslims in less than a year. “Of our 3 lakh Assamese Muslim members, 2.7 lakh joined us in the last nine months,” said Sayed Mominul Awal, chief of state BJP’s minority wing.
He attributed it largely to the Muslims’ loss of faith in the Congress and All India United Democratic Front.
Sarbananda Sonowal, BJP’s chief ministerial candidate, said Assamese Muslims are crucial for his party’s future in the state.
Nekibur Zaman, chairman of Assam Wakf Board, welcomed the BJP’s blueprint for development of all indigenous communities. “The BJP gives us hope,” he said.
No Assamese Muslim figures among the seven out of 88 candidates the BJP has fielded. But the party says they are indigenous.
Ethnologists say none of the 28 Muslim MLAs elected in 2011 could be called Assamese Muslims.