Don’t let his rumpled kurta fool you. Maulana Badruddin Ajmal is one of the richest men in Assam, his personal worth well over Rs 200 crore.
He is also chief of the Assam United Democratic Front (AUDF), the first ‘Muslim party’ with national plans, which, having a made a mark in the northeastern state in the last assembly election, intends to contest seats across the country in the Lok Sabha polls — specially in Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
Will Ajmal repeat his Assam success? When the AUDF was born, in October 2005, most, including Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi, called it a bit of a joke. A party of bearded mullahs, most of whom had never been in politics before could not be taken very seriously.
But it was the AUDF leaders who were laughing after the 2006 assembly elections, in which the party won 10 of the 126 seats!
The reasons that gave birth to the AUDF, however, were very Assam specific. It began with the Supreme Court striking down an act, the Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunal) Act, 1983, used only in Assam to detect illegal immigrants — much to the consternation of the Bengali Muslims.
Why should that have caused any worry? Because the act had been passed by a government keen to protect its Muslim votebank and thus contained clauses that made it more difficult to detect infiltrators — most of them from Bangladesh - than elsewhere in the country.
With this act out of the way, the Foreigners Act 1946, became effective in Assam too, making detection of illegal entrants a tad easier, but at the same time instilling fears in the Bengali Muslim community of the state that all of them — including those who settled in Assam before Bangl-adesh was created — could be hounded and persecuted.
With the Congress, which had passed the act, refusing to defend it any more, the AUDF — backed by the Assam unit of the Jamiat Ulema e Hind — materialised, vowing to protect the community.
To make a mark outside, the AUDF will obviously need a new agenda. Ajmal has been working towards formulating just that.
“We are not merely a party of Bengali Muslims,” he insisted, pointing out that two of his 10 MLAs were Hindus. “We champion the cause of all kinds of minorities. We are concerned about all their problems across the country.”