North East

How Badruddin Ajmal Was Defeated In His Backyard

Jaideep Mazumdar

Jun 06, 2024, 04:25 PM | Updated 08:50 PM IST

Himanta Biswa Sarma and Maulana Badruddin Ajmal.
Himanta Biswa Sarma and Maulana Badruddin Ajmal.
  • This is how Assam Chief Minster Himanta Biswa Sarma secured the defeat of Islamist leader Badruddin Ajmal in his stronghold.
  • One of the little-known surprises in the just concluded Lok Sabha elections is the crushing defeat of Islamist leader — Maulana Badruddin Ajmal, the founder of the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) — in Dhubri. 

    Dhubri, where Bengali-speaking Muslims form about 75 per cent of the electorate, used to be considered the impregnable fortress of Ajmal, who has represented the constituency that borders Bangladesh for the last 15 years. 

    Ajmal, a very affluent businessman, had been a cult figure among the millions of Bengali-speaking (Bangladesh-origin) Muslims of Assam. 

    But his defeat by more than 10 lakh votes — the highest margin in this year’s Lok Sabha elections in the country — at the hands of senior Congress leader Rakibul Hussain has hardly made news beyond Assam. 

    The story of Ajmal’s defeat is also one of Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma’s success. Sarma had made it his mission a few years ago to defeat and finish off Ajmal politically.

    That’s because Sarma realised Ajmal’s Islamist leanings posed a grave threat to Assam and India’s integrity. As long as Ajmal remained powerful, people, especially impressionable young Muslims, would be drawn to him. And, hence, Ajmal had to be defeated. 

    “The aura of invincibility, and of power and influence, that Ajmal enjoyed and which he leveraged to further his Islamist agenda, had to be demolished. Ajmal’s politics was radicalising many Muslims of Assam and that posed a security threat to the country,” said political science teacher Nirmal Bora who has tracked Ajmal’s rise in politics for the past couple of decades. 

    Chief Minister Sarma, the astute politician that he is, realised that it would be impossible for the BJP to defeat Ajmal in Dhubri. Even if the BJP fielded a Muslim candidate in Dhubri, the candidate would be soundly defeated. 

    Sarma, thus, prompted the Congress to field a powerful and senior Muslim leader from Dhubri. Even though he had a bitter parting with the Congress and is at daggers drawn with some top Congress leaders, Sarma still has enough contacts in his former party. 

    Thanks to some deft moves by the Assam Chief Minister, the state Congress started preparing its senior leader, Rakibul Hussain, to fight from Dhubri. Hussain is a five-time MLA from Samaguri Assembly seat in northern-central Assam and had been a senior minister in the Tarun Gogoi government. 

    Dhubri was new territory for him. He had never even planned to contest elections from Dhubri till his party bosses told him to make it his new karmabhoomi

    Incidentally, Sarma and Hussain had a stormy relationship when the former was in the Congress. Hussain was instrumental in encouraging (then CM) Tarun Gogoi to get his son Gaurav into politics, a move that angered Sarma who considered himself the rightful claimant to the CM’s post after Gogoi. 

    Gogoi had, in fact, assured Sarma sometime on the eve of the 2011 assembly polls in the state that he would eventually step aside in favour of the latter in the later part of his third term (2011 to 2016). 

    But Gogoi’s move to anoint his son as his successor angered Sarma, and that led to turmoil within the Congress with Sarma ultimately leaving the party in 2015. During this period, ties between Sarma and Hussain, who rallied behind Gogoi, became very acrimonious. 

    But Sarma did not allow past animosity with Hussain to come in the way of his goal to finish Ajmal’s political career. The Assam CM realised that Hussain, a heavyweight Bengali-speaking Muslim leader, would be best suited to take on Ajmal. 

    Hussain was asked by his party to court the people of Dhubri about four years ago. He started making frequent visits to Dhubri, meeting a cross-section of the people there and cultivating influential civil society as well as Muslim organisations. 

    Hussain fuelled anger against Ajmal who hadn’t done much for the constituency despite representing it since 2009. Hussain made a slew of promises to the people of Dhubri, a backward district which lags behind the rest of the state in healthcare, education and infrastructure. 

    Hussain’s efforts paid off and the anti-incumbency that he fuelled against Ajmal ultimately felled the latter. It also helped that the BJP’s ally Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) fielded a relatively weak candidate from the seat. 

    The defeat in Dhubri, say political analysts in Assam, effectively brings to an end the political career of the 74-year-old business magnate. It also puts his party — the AIUDF — into a steep decline. AIUDF candidates in the other seats where Muslims form a significant chunk of the electorate also lost this time. 

    This was a poor show for a party that won 16 seats in the 2021 assembly elections in the state and garnered a vote share of 9.29 per cent. Ajmal’s disastrous defeat has dealt a body blow to his party, and that is exactly what Himanta Biswa Sarma wanted. 

    No wonder, then, that Sarma uncharacteristically singled Hussain for praise. “If someone has done very well this time, it is Rakibul Hussain,” said Sarma. 

    Get Swarajya in your inbox.