Perfume baron hopes to be Muslim messiah | delhi | Hindustan Times
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Perfume baron hopes to be Muslim messiah

delhi Updated: Feb 04, 2009 14:23 IST
Zia Haq and Rahul Karmakar
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In the business of agar oil, one of the costliest perfumery raw materials, patience is de riguer: It entails infecting the agar (Aquilaria agallocha) tree with a fungus over eight to 10 years to get the high-value aromatic oil.

But Maulana Badruddin Ajmal, 50, who made his millions exporting agar essence and ittar primarily to West Asia, appears to be in a hurry this time.

A tad over three years into active politics — he formed the Asom United Democratic Front (AUDF) just six months ahead of the Assam polls in 2006 and grabbed a stunning 10 seats — and he has unleashed a pan-India political plan for a Muslim party, India’s first such attempt since before Independence.

A millionaire perfume (attar) baron who studied in Darul Uloom, Deoband — he is still a member of its shoora, or governing council — Ajmal is an AUDF legislator and state Jamiat Ulama-e-Hind chief.

Ajmal wants to repeat what he calls the “Assam feat” in four major states — Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Maharashtra and Jharkhand — in the Lok Sabha elections. In UP alone, he wants to contest 20 seats. In Maharashtra, its 10 and Assam, nine.

India’s 150 million Muslims have a decisive vote in 80 of 543 Lok Sabha seats, but most Muslim political formations remain regional forces.

Muslim Majlis’ turf doesn’t go beyond Uttar Pradesh.

Hyderabad MP Asaduddin Owaisi’s All-India Majlis-E-Ittehadul Muslimmen has little influence outside Andhra Pradesh.

The Indian Union Muslim League, with a lone MP, is confined to Kerala.

Ajmal’s plan is to change all that. “We will float five sister parties, one each in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and Maharashtra and contest the Lok Sabha polls,” he told HT on Tuesday. “We will storm UP in a big way.”

That’s easier said than done.

“To replicate the Assam model, he needs the same circumstances — a void he can fill,” said Mehboob Ahmed, the UP chief of All-India Muslim Majlis-e-Mushawarat. Feeling embattled by anti-migrant politics, Muslims in 2006 were skeptical of both the Congress and the Asom Gana Parishad.

Moreover, top Muslim leaders like Jamiat Ulama-e-Hind leader and Rajya Sabha MP Mahmood Madni, 48, helped him launch his party three years ago. Now, Madni — and by extention the Jamiat — is reluctant to back him because his brother is contesting the Amroha seat on a BSP ticket.

Doing everything large-scale is an Ajmal trait. The family owns most of Hojai, a central Assam town of 36,000 people in Nagaon district. It also runs the largest agar plantation near Hojai; Asia’s richest NGO named Markaj-ul Maaris and Asia’s largest rural charitable hospital — the 500-bed Haji Abdul Majid Memorial Hospital & Research Centre — besides one of the world’s biggest perfume businesses.

AUDF is not a registered national party, so it will field candidates under the banner of UP-UDF in UP, Bihar-UDF in Bihar and so on. The party hasn’t yet given the BSP or Congress the jitters. But it claims to have done some “serious homework”.