The agar tree takes about eight years of infection by a fungus to yield agar oil, one of the costliest perfumery raw materials. The All India United Democratic Front has taken as much time to shake off its reputation as a party catering only to Muslims.
The agar business and AIUDF are inseparable. Maulana Badruddin Ajmal, patriarch of arguably India’s richest agar oil exporting family, is its chief.
Many in Assam, touchy about ‘Bangladeshis’, went by Ajmal’s appearance – flowing beard, skull cap, et al – to label AIUDF as a pro-Muslim party. Some saw it as a one-election wonder, much like the United Minorities’ Front that came and went after the 1985 assembly elections.
Both UMF and AIUDF were formed to fight for the rights of migrants ‘victimised’ with the foreigner tag. Ajmal, who party leaders say understands the business of politics, made the difference for the latter.
Like the Aam Aadmi Party in Delhi, AIUDF took less than a year after its 2005 birth to make its presence felt. It won 10 of the 69 seats it contested in the 2006 assembly election, eating into the traditional Muslim votes of the Congress. Ajmal was the lone winner for AIUDF in its debut (2009) Lok Sabha polls, but the party came a close second in four more seats. It bagged 18 seats in the 2011 assembly elections, more than the Asom Gana Parishad, once the ‘regional alternative’ to the Congress.
But the X factor Ajmal had in 2009 is missing this time. So the party has gone about shedding its image. “A Muslim cleric-businessman heading the party does not mean it bats for Muslims or migrants. Otherwise, I would not have been the working president of this party,” said Aditya Langthasa, former AIUDF legislator and a Dimasa tribal.
According to Ajmal, labelling AIUDF as a Muslim or minority party is a conspiracy of the Congress and BJP. “We have come a long way in broad-basing the party to appeal to all communities,” he said, denying any poll pact with the Congress.