In the lead-up to the Lok Sabha polls in Assam, political dynamics are intensifying, with religious polarization reaching unprecedented levels. Chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma set the tone with aggressive speeches outlining the BJP’s Hindutva agenda. Now, the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF), a key rival to the BJP in Assam, is countering with a divisive message. AIUDF leader MP Badruddin Ajmal has issued a controversial appeal to the Muslim community, urging them to stay home from January 20 to 26. He cites potential security issues during the inauguration of the Ram temple in Ayodhya on January 22, anticipating large Hindu crowds traveling for the event. While framed as a call for communal peace, Ajmal’s underlying message is a veiled boycott of the temple celebration, hinting at the possibility of communal violence. Critics argue that AIUDF’s proposal contradicts the sentiments of a significant number of Muslims in Assam and beyond who have not expressed widespread outrage over the construction of the Ram temple. Even prominent minority leader Farooq Abdullah from Kashmir has taken a liberal stance, acknowledging that Ram belongs to all of India, not just Hindus. However, analysts suggest that leaders like Ajmal and Asaduddin Owaisi of the AIMIM have failed to reach beyond their immediate followers with a positive, secular message, irrespective of the Ram temple issue.
Despite potential backlash, Ajmal’s call could lead to a consolidation of minority votes against the BJP if a significant portion of Muslims in Assam heeds his advice. This aligns with AIUDF’s broader campaign slogan, “No vote for the BJP,” aimed at mobilizing minority communities ahead of the 2024 elections. The crucial question remains: to what extent will Muslims follow AIUDF’s directive? It’s essential to note that during Chief Minister Sarma’s tenure, Muslims in Assam, constituting around 35% of the population, have felt increasingly insecure due to various reasons. The election outcome in several constituencies, whether impacted by delimitation or not, hinges on Muslim voting patterns. As part of the opposition’s INDIA Alliance, led by the Congress, AIUDF will contest the Karimganj, Dhubri, and Nagaon parliamentary seats, leaving 11 seats for the Congress. The opposition’s focus is on forming a solid block of minority, especially Muslim, votes to challenge the entrenched BJP. In 2024, minorities in Assam are determined to voice their discontent with the BJP, fuelled by a series of grievances. Issues such as harassment during the NRC exercise, closure of official madrasas, controversial demolitions of Muslim-owned properties, and alleged politically motivated police encounters have heightened tensions. The recent delimitation of constituencies has further fuelled suspicions of attempts to weaken the Muslim vote bank, a claim chief minister Sarma does not deny.
While the central government has largely supported Sarma’s tough stance, the state government has faced criticism from human rights groups and the judiciary. The minorities in Assam believe that the BJP must be held accountable for their perceived mistreatment, and they view the upcoming elections as an opportunity to voice their dissatisfaction. Assam is witnessing a dangerous escalation of communal tensions as political parties strategize for the upcoming Lok Sabha polls. The AIUDF’s divisive appeal and the opposition’s attempts to consolidate minority votes reflect the high stakes and polarized atmosphere in the state. As the campaign unfolds, it remains to be seen how voters, particularly the minority communities, will respond to these political maneuvers.