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Brakes on Ajmal juggernaut?

Nothing could go wrong for perfume baron Badruddin Ajmal. Until his son Abdur Ramhan Ajmal lost the Assembly seat he had vacated to become a parliamentarian, reports Rahul Karmakar.

india Updated: Nov 12, 2009 23:28 IST
Rahul Karmakar

Nothing could go wrong for perfume baron Badruddin Ajmal. Until his son Abdur Ramhan Ajmal lost the Assembly seat he had vacated to become a parliamentarian.

Less than a year after its birth in the latter half of 2005, the minority-specific Asom United Democratic Front surprised political pundits by bagging 10 Assembly seats in Assam. Last year, it shed its regional image and floated units in five more states – Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh – to transform into the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF).

As the Ajmal juggernaut rolled, the ruling Congress in Assam became warier of the AIUDF than the crisis-ridden Asom Gana Parishad (AGP). For, Muslims hold the key to 52 of 126 Assembly seats and six of 14 Lok Sabha seats in Assam.

In the parliamentary polls earlier this year, Ajmal senior defeated Congress heavyweight and former Union Minister Santosh Mohan Dev to win the Silchar seat. It was the only Lok Sabha seat the AIUDF won, but it was almost through in two more seats.

Ajmal senior, more of a Muslim cleric than a businessman worth over Rs 200 crore, subsequently vacated his Salmara South Assembly seat. And he nominated his elder son Abdur Rahman for the seat.

The Congress was quick to pan Ajmal senior’s brand of “family-oriented” minority politics, underscoring how he wanted to pitchfork son Abdur Rahman after having promoted brother Sirajuddin. Ajmal had earlier vacated the Jamunamukh Assembly seat to make room for Sirajuddin.

“There’s a limit to how far you can go playing the minority card and cashing in on religious sentiments,” said Abdul Khaleque, Congress MLA from Jania in western Assam’s Barpeta district. “The defeat of Ajmal’s son by 6,553 votes is an indication.”

Abdur Rahman lost the Muslim-dominated Salmara South seat to Congress’ Wazed Ali Choudhury, who polled 53,469 votes. The Congress registered a bigger win in the Dhekiajuli Assembly seat, its candidate Bhimananda Tanti defeating AGP’s Shiv Charan Sahu by 21,547 votes. Dhekiajuli was regarded an AGP bastion.

Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi, elated by his party’s show in the by-elections, went to the extent of calling Ajmal “history”. Lesser Congress leaders reminded how the AIUDF bubble had burst in the Maharashtra Assembly elections, where the party was routed in all the six seats it had contested.

“Let’s keep Maharashtra out of this,” Ajmal told *Hindustan Times*. “If one loss makes me history, then Indira Gandhi should have been history after the Congress debacle post-Emergency. And the Congress should know better than accuse others of dynastic politics.”

Ajmal accused the ruling Congress of misusing the government machinery and threatening voters to ensure AIUDF’s loss in the Salmara South seat.