Updated: March 15, 2021 8:40:57 am
It is unusual for a political party contesting 19 out of 126 assembly seats to be the focal point of a state election. But ever since its formation in 2005, the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) is accustomed to being the punching bag for mainstream political parties in Assam. In election after election, it has been described as the party of Miyas, the term for Muslims of Bengali origin, labelled as communal or anti-Assamese, isolated and targeted. However, the current election is likely to end the political isolation of the AIUDF and mark its entry into Assam’s political mainstream. The party’s alliance with the Congress and the Left has the potential to significantly alter political discourse and the electoral map of Assam.
It is true that the AIUDF has been largely the voice of Bengali-speaking Muslims. While its opponents accuse the party of defending illegal migrants, a sensitive issue in Assam, the AIUDF leadership has repeatedly defended itself by speaking out against illegal immigration. In fact, the party has been demanding the implementation of the NRC (National Register of Citizens), calling it the first step towards identifying illegal migrants; it has termed the Citizenship Amendment Act as a measure that undercuts efforts to end illegal migration. On the NRC and CAA, the positions of the AIUDF and the Congress converge and with both parties seeking to turn the election into a referendum on the CAA, their alliance was foretold. But a more pressing reason behind the alliance is the assumption that it would help the two parties to consolidate the “Muslim vote”, which at 35 per cent is influential in about 50 constituencies, though the Congress is also fearful that engaging with the AIUDF may hurt its prospects elsewhere. The BJP, meanwhile, seems focused on painting the AIUDF as a communal party and its agenda as inimical to Assamese identity and interests; the NDA campaign is silent on the NRC and CAA. The AIUDF has sought to highlight its development work in its stronghold and dispel allegations of being merely a party of Muslims by pointing out that even as early as 2006 two of its 10 legislators were Hindus.
Successive elections have shown why the Assam political mainstream cannot wish away the AIUDF. The party represents a section of Assamese voters who have historically been politically and economically marginalised. The idea of Assamese identity has so far been shaped by language and the Miya voice is painted as the Other. The integration of the AIUDF into the mainstream will, hopefully, help enlarge a conversation on redefining Assamese identity in a more inclusive framework.
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