The BJP has discovered a weapon in its fight against migrant Muslims - a 'politically forgotten community' called indigenous Assamese Muslims.
Indigenous Muslims feel threatened by the growing clout of their Bengali-speaking migrant counterparts. On Thursday, the party stole a march over the Congress by naming Abdul Rahim from Assam's Nazira constituency.
The nomination came days after the Congress warmed up to Bengali Hindu migrants and after the BJP named Mintu Khan for the Sootea seat in north-central Assam. Though Khan isn't as 'indigenous' as Rahim, his area of origin - Bihar - has kept him out of the 'migrant' bracket."Congress, which claims to bat for the minorities, has always ignored Assamese Muslims," said BJP MP Bijoya Chakraborty.
"Our party is behind all indigenous communities irrespective of religion, language and ethnicity." Assam BJP unit president Ranjit Dutta also pricked the Congress for "forgetting" that the indigenous Muslims, locally referred to as Garias, existed. "We are proud to be the first party to field an indigenous Muslim candidate from any constituency in eastern Assam," he said.
What makes the party confident about Rahim in a constituency that has oscillated between the Congress and the Left? Because the bulk of the 2.5 million Assamese Muslims live in eastern Assam, many of them in oil-rich Sivasagar district where Nazira is situated.
The Assamese Muslims had two years ago formed a forum to protect their rights after "realising" the Bengali-speaking Muslim migrants were using up all the benefits meant for the minorities. The forum - Khilonjiya Musalman Jatiya Mahasabha - also resented being bracketed with 'Miyas'.
"The vote-bank appeal of migrant Muslims has robbed us of the rights and benefits for minorities," said indigenous Muslim leader Nekibur Zaman.