Updated: March 5, 2021 10:18:39 am
In a recent letter addressed to opposition political parties, Akhil Gogoi — the jailed activist and chief of the newly formed regional political party in Assam — singled out Badruddin Ajmal’s AIUDF as “communal” and urged that only one joint opposition candidate should be put up in all constituencies against the BJP to prevent the saffron party from winning.
The letter has ruffled feathers in poll-bound Assam, with strong reactions coming in from different quarters.
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What did the letter say?
In the letter, Gogoi said that when he talks about the opposition parties against the BJP, he is consciously keeping the AIUDF out. “We do not desire to take along a communal party with fundamentalist ideology to oppose a communal and fascist party,” wrote Gogoi.
“We think the BJP and the AIUDF are two sides of the same coin,” wrote Gogoi, adding that they strengthened each other. “If we take them along with us, we will be weakened ethically, ideologically and politically.”
Gogoi has argued in his letter that the minority community itself is readying to bid farewell to the AIUDF but the Congress has chosen to give it a new lease of life. He argued that the Congress’s alliance with the AIUDF has distanced the regional parties from the alliance — the Raijor Dal, Akhil Gogoi’s party, and Assam Jatiya Parishad (AJP) have chosen to keep away from the ‘grand alliance’.
What is the context of his statement?
The Congress — with the AIUDF, three Left parties, a new regional party called the AGM and the Bodoland people’s Front (BPF) — have announced a ‘grand alliance’ against the BJP. The AIUDF is led by Ajmal, the MP and perfume baron, and the party enjoys a large support base in the state’s Bengali-origin Muslim community, often derogatorily referred to as ‘Miya Muslims’.
Gogoi’s statement comes at a time, when, in this election campaign, the BJP has constantly attacked Ajmal, the AIUDF and ‘Miya Muslims’. It has criticised the Congress for tying up with the AIUDF. Last month, Union Home Minister Amit Shah asked how could those who ally with Ajmal, “save Assam” and stop infiltration. He said that the Congress has tied up with Ajmal in its “lust for power”.
The influential Assam minister Himanta Biswa Sarma has called Ajmal an “enemy” of Assam and claimed that he was “trying for something which is alien to Assamese culture”. Sarma had also said that the BJP did not need votes of the Miya community to win over 100 seats in the state elections and accused the community of “openly challenging Assamese culture and language and challenging composite Indian culture”.
In an interview with The Indian Express last month, Ajmal said, “It’s a very dirty formula by Himanta Biswa Sarma. A formula to divide people of Assam. They should actually focus on issues and their work — but unfortunately they have not done any good work in the last five years, and therefore they take my name.”
Reacting to Gogoi’s letter, Aminul Islam, the general secretary of the AIUDF, told The Indian Express, “Akhil Gogoi’s letter forces us to raise questions as to whether it was dictated by ‘someone else’ — because the points he has said aligns with what the BJP is saying. At a time when a solid anti-BJP current is building up in Assam, Akhil Gogoi choses to put pressure on the Congress to break the grand alliance against the BJP.”
Islam continued, “We challenge Akhil Gogoi to show where we have made any communal statement. Our stand on the Assam Accord, on the ‘foreigners issue’, the NRC and the CAA are the same as his and his party’s. Where have we ever made any communal statement?”
What has been the reaction to the letter?
After the letter, prominent public intellectual and chief advisor of the Raijor Dal, Hiren Gohain, quit his party position saying that Gogoi’s stance went completely opposite to his long-held opinion.
Raijor Dal’s alliance partner AJP has distanced itself from the letter.
The Congress dismissed the allegations and asked what ‘communal’ act the AIUDF had done so far.
“We do not think the AIUDF is communal. When you try to work to uplift a downtrodden community without affecting any other community, then how can you be communal?” Pradyut Bordoloi, a Congress MP and key leader in Assam, told The Indian Express.
“The AIUDF has not said a single communal thing or incited violence against any other community. The AIUDF — so far — has done nothing to spread hatred against any other community. If in the future we find them spread hate and inciting violence, we will definitely sever our ties with them,” he added. Asked Bordoloi: “Who is Akhil Gogoi to dictate anything to us on this?”
Ajit Kumar Bhuyan, the Rajya Sabha MP who leads the new party AGM, has termed Gogoi’s statement as “immature”.
“Earlier, at one point, Gogoi had asked people to vote for the BJP, seeing the situation. And more importantly, in the 2014 elections, he had urged people to vote for the same Ajmal’s candidature from Dhubri Lok Sabha constituency whom he is opposing now…Akhil Gogoi should make it clear on which specific issue has Ajmal or his party said anything problematic,” Bhuyan said.
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