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Assam Elections 2021 | How Muslims of the state, one-third of electorate, voted in 2016 and 2019

In the last general elections, 70 percent of Assam's Muslims voted for the Congress, followed by 20 percent for the AIUDF, a post-poll study suggested.

March 31, 2021 / 11:09 PM IST
AIUDF President and Lok Sabha MP from Dhubri, Badruddin Ajmal with his son and Jamunamukh MLA Abdur Rahim Ajmal (File Image: PTI)

AIUDF President and Lok Sabha MP from Dhubri, Badruddin Ajmal with his son and Jamunamukh MLA Abdur Rahim Ajmal (File Image: PTI)

In Assam, the Muslim community is considered as electorally significant as they account for around one-third of the state's population. At least 33 out of the 126 constituencies of Assam are 'Muslim-dominated', and the community - if it votes en-bloc - is decisive in determining the poll results in 18 other seats, analysts claim. Here is how they voted in 2016 and 2019.

In the last assembly polls, the dominating victory of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led alliance was partly attributed to the division of Muslim votes between the then incumbent ruling party Congress and the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF).

Badruddin Ajmal, the perfume baron-cum-politician who heads the AIUDF, had claimed ahead of the 2016 polls that the Congress "would be blamed" if the BJP succeeds in forming the government. His remarks came after the Congress refrained from sealing a pre-poll alliance with the party.

The post-election survey of Lokniti-CSDS confirmed the division of minority votes, along with a drift in ethnic Assamese and Bengali community votes towards the BJP.

The division was sharper among Bengali Muslims - a 38 percent among them voted for the Congress and 39 percent for the AIUDF, the post-poll study suggested. Five percent of the votes also went in favour of the BJP-led coalition that included the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) and Bodoland People's Front (BPF).

Among Assamese Muslims, 65 percent voted for the Congress, 12 percent for the AIUDF and 7 percent opted for candidates of the BJP-AGP-BPF alliance.

A consolidation of Hindu votes in favour of the BJP-led alliance was also witnessed, as 67 percent of the Assamese Hindus and 65 percent of their Bengali-origin counterparts voted in favour of the saffron coalition, the Lokniti-CSDS data suggested.

When the results were declared, the BJP ended up winning 60 seats, and its allies AGP and BPF won 14 and 12 assembly segments, respectively. The Congress and the AIDUF won 26 and 13 seats, respectively.

In 2019, though the Congress reclaimed a section of Muslim voters from the AIUDF - the 'counter-polarisation' factor propelled the BJP to its best-ever performance in parliamentary seats of Assam.

Among Muslim voters, 70 percent voted for the Congress, followed by 20 percent for the AIUDF, the Lokniti-CSDS post-poll study found. The reduction in AIUDF's vote share was also due to his party's decision to contest on only three seats.

This had drawn the allegations of a 'tacit' AIUDF-Congress alliance. However, the three seats where Ajmal's party contested featured a challenge from the Congress. It was able to win only one out of three constituencies - with Ajmal being the party's lone elected MP.

The BJP-AGP-BPF, on the other hand, saw massive consolidation of votes among the non-Muslim sections of the electorate.

The saffron alliance was backed by 74 percent of the voters from the upper-caste community, 60 percent of other backward classes (OBC), 66 percent of Dalit and 86 percent of Adivasi communities, as per the Lokniti-CSDS data.

The BJP bagged nine of the 14 parliamentary seats, whereas, the Congress won 3. One each was bagged by the AIUDF and an independent candidate.

The prospects of the Congress and the AIUDF would not be hurt by the division of Muslim votes in the 2021 elections, as both the parties entered into a pre-poll alliance.

The counter-polarisation - that was expected after they joined hands - is unlikely to emerge as a key factor in this assembly polls, according to Sandhya Goswami, former professor of Political Science at the Gauhati University.

"The BJP had benefitted from polarisation in the previous election. But the voters are now expressing displeasure over their performance in the last five years," Goswami told Moneycontrol, suggesting that the anti-incumbency is a bigger factor than polarisation.

A post-election analysis to observe the voting pattern of Assam's Muslims would remain keenly awaited. Since Jammu & Kashmir was turned into a union territory in 2019, Assam became the state with the highest share of Muslim population. As per the 2011 census, the Muslims form a majority in 11 districts of the state and account for 35 percent of the total population.

Mohammed Shaikh