JD-U leader Nitish Kumar is playing the peacemaker between sworn enemies Congress and AIUDF in an attempt at cobbling together a Bihar-style grand alliance in Assam to thwart the BJP’s aggressive bid for capturing power in the northeast state.
Assembly elections in Assam are due early next year and the BJP is making serious attempts to capture power in the state for the first time.
Perfume baron-turned politician Badruddin Ajmal had floated the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) as an alternative to the Congress which he had accused of “using” the state’s sizeable Muslims population as merely a vote bank.
Chief minister Tarun Gogoi had earlier famously dismissed the fledgling AIUDF with a curt “Who is Badruddin Ajmal?” barb, seen as the beginning of the bitter turf war between the two parties.
Kumar, who vanquished the BJP in the high-stakes Bihar assembly recently, has suggested a compromise formula so that the Congress and the AIUDF can fight the March-April elections as alliance partners and prevent any division of votes.
Ajmal told HT that he had so far rejected all “direct and indirect feelers” from the Congress for an alliance since he did not want to share the burden of the ruling party’s 15 years of anti-incumbency.
Ajmal said his meeting with Kumar in Delhi last week has “broken some ice” and that he agreed with the Bihar CM’s views that a multi-cornered contest on any seat would “certainly benefit” the BJP.
As per the formula, Kumar’s JD-U, Trinamool Congress of West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee, Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), Congress and AIUDF will all be part of the “mahagathbandhan” or grand alliance in Assam and contest the polls jointly.
For his part, Ajmal told Kumar to formulate the terms and conditions of the alliance. Another round of meeting between the two is expected soon.
“I am not ready to accept the big brother attitude of any party. We are not going to compromise on our principles and ideology at any cost…. We are no pushovers,” he said.
Out of the total 126 constituencies, the AIUDF, which holds considerable sway in Assam’s Muslim-majority areas, is expected to demand somewhere between 40 and 50 seats if the grand alliance takes shape.
However, a section within the Congress is of the view that a Bihar-style alliance could not have the same impact in Assam.
The BJP emerged as a strong player in the northeastern state in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections when it bagged seven of the 14 parliamentary seats with an impressive vote share of 36.5%. The Congress and Ajmal’s party won three each.
With 18 MLAs in the 126-member House, the AIUDF is the second-largest party after the Congress in the outgoing assembly. Its vote share then stood at 12.57%. Muslim votes account for 30% of the total electorate in Assam.