Assam polls: Badruddin Ajmal's AIUDF emerging as a new alternative?
The agar (Aquilaria agallocha) tree takes about eight years of infection by a fungus to yield agar oil, one of the costliest perfumery raw materials. It has taken almost the same time for All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) to shake off the minority tag and produce a universal 'political perfume'.
The agar business and the AIUDF are inseparable. Maulana Badruddin Ajmal, patriarch of arguably India's richest agar oil exporting family, is the chief of AIUDF.
Many in Assam, a state wary of migrants aka 'Bangladeshis', allegedly went by Ajmal's appearance – flowing beard, skull cap and clad in white kurta-pyjama – to label AIUDF as a pro-Muslim party. Some saw it as a one-election wonder, much like the United Minorities' Front (UMF) that came and went after the 1985 assembly elections.
Both UMF and the AIUDF were formed to fight for the rights of the migrants they say are victimised with the Bangladeshi or foreigner tag. But the former did not have at its helm someone like Ajmal who, as party colleagues say, understands the politics of business or the business of politics.
Like the Aam Aadmi Party in Delhi, the AIUDF took less than a year to make its presence felt in the 2006 assembly elections in Assam. The decision of the Supreme Court in 2005 to scrap an allegedly pro-migrants act hampering their detection and deportation, hasted the party's birth.
The AIUDF won 10 of the 69 seats it contested, 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.
The skeptics were silenced when AIUDF bagged 18 seats in the 2011 assembly elections, emerging as the second largest party ahead of Asom Gana Parishad, once the 'regional alternative' to the Congress.
"Just because a Muslim cleric-businessman heads our 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.
The composition of candidates for the assembly, panchayat and civic polls during the past few years underscores the secular, democratic structure of the party, he added.
According to senior party leader Aminul Islam, labelling AIUDF as a Muslim or minority party is a conspiracy of the Congress and BJP.
"Yes, Muslims are a decisive force in some LS seats (they constitute 30-56% of the voters in six of Assam's 14 parliamentary constituencies) but we have come a long way to broad-base the party to appeal to every community, minority or majority," he said.
So how many non-Muslims will the party put up? "What matters is the right candidate, and we will finalise the names after the Congress and BJP declare their lists," Ajmal said.