Assam is the Indian state with the second highest percent of Muslim population - more than 34%. 49 of 126 or 40 percent of the Assembly constituencies have very sizeable Muslim presence that can be a determining factor in an election. The animosity of RSS Hindus and Bodos against Muslims and their strong desire to suppress Muslims is well known for decades. BJP and AGP including PM Modi have very falsely labelled a large number of Assamese Muslims as Bangladeshi infiltrators for many years now.
Thus the recent Assam election was an important watershed for the Muslims of not only Assam but of India itself. It was therefore necessary for leaders of Assamese Muslims to handle the recent election with much strategy and care. Not with false bravado like AIUDF's Maulana Ajmal putting up their candidates in 71 constituencies despite limited resources, asking Muslims to vote for Muslims only, and claiming to win 45 seats and becoming deputy chief minister. All this lack of planning, bravado and putting up AIUDF Muslim candidates against Muslim candidates of Congress in such a large number of constituencies had only one effect. It caused major division in Muslim votes in 49 constituencies and polarized voters along Muslim-Hindu line.
Maulana Ajmal, and AIUDF that had gradually progressed to an impressive 18 seats in the outgoing state Assemly were over their head in thinking that the people or even the Muslims of Assam were willing to accept the Ajmal political dynasty. Ajmal infused several inexperienced members of his clan in leadership positions in AIUDF. They also felt that they could give a run to Chief Minister Gogoi's family that has ruled Assam for 15 years. It is true that the power drunk Gogoi thought that Assam belonged to his family and he did not need alliance or seat adjustment with AIUDF, that he detests. Another factor being the fact that for long many Muslims have been in the Congress party.
Regardless of the blunders and arrogance of Gogoi and Congress it behoved AIUDF and Maulana Ajmal to act wisely and not create such a political division in the Muslim constituencies. In election after election in several states local Muslim leaders running against each other and putting up Muslim candidates against other Muslims has resulted in division of Muslim votes and victories of Hindu- BJP candidates, Therefore not doing that should be the basic strategy of all Muslim leaders.
Most galling was that Maulana Ajmal a member of parliament contested for an Assembly seat against another Muslim candidate of the Congress party and lost to him by 16,000 votes. Also AIUDF lost 5 seats, more than one-fourth of their seats in the outgoing Assembly. Surely there is no way to explain this and say that things are not that bad for AIUDF or Assamese Muslims. Despite their relatively big population base and their recent political progress this election is a political and social debacle for both.
Will the anti-Muslim parties of BJP and AGP take Assam in the same direction as they did in Gujarat? With deep seated anti-Muslim hostilities among Hindus in Assam fanned over the years, it is likely that in Assam Muslims may be cowed down and discouraged from being first among equals. Just as in Gujarat Muslims do face subtle and not so subtle across the board discrimination. We pray and hope that it does not happen but the handwriting is on the wall.
That brings us to think of the performance of Muslims in the recent election in West Bengal and a few months ago in Bihar. In both states Muslim leaders by working deftly with secular Hindu leaders and not challenging them, crushed BJP, despite Modi at his divisive and communal best. That was a remarkable performance. In West Bengal with 27 percent Muslim population, 56 Muslims were elected MLAs - seven percent less Muslim population and about 20 more Muslim MLAs compared to Assam. Just think that if the Muslim leaders in West Bengal and Bihar had allowed MIM and Owasi to crow for Muslim vote banks, what would have been the result for Muslims.
Obviously then the question arises as to why the Muslim leaders in Assam do not behave like their counterparts in west Bengal and Bihar? This requires an honest and deep analysis by Muslim journalists, leaders and thinkers. Unfortunately in the week since the Assam election results have been announced they are either blasting Congress party leaders or are keeping quiet. None of them have shown the wisdom to accept the bitter truth about the unthinking and defective leadership and strategy demonstrated by the Muslim leaders of Assam. This is a core deficiency among the Muslim media and journalists that they can not accept the problems created by the community's leaders. All problems are shoved under the rug.
With the election in Uttar Pradesh less than a year away, we need to learn the lessons of Assam and what was done right by the community leaders in West Bengal and Bihar. I am very hopeful that many strategic Muslim thinkers and luminaries in north India will take up this task in earnest and draw up a viable strategy to keep BJP out of the Uttar Pradesh state Assembly. There is a big need for the Muslim leaders, leaders of sects and parties, to sink their differences and jointly negotiate strategy with the Bahujan Samaj Party, Samajwadi Party and Congress and with the Maha Gathbandhan that the media is writing about.
Or else a debacle awaits 40 million Muslims in Uttar Pradesh the heartland off Indian Muslims if BJP wins there next year. In UP another major problem is the presence of so many small Muslim based parties like Peace Party, Ulema Council, Muslim League, Parcham Party etc .that are vulnerable to divide the Muslim vote or get misled by the major parties to do their bidding. Concern for the welfare of the Muslim community often takes a back seat.
[The writer is Washington DC based activist. He can be reached on: firstname.lastname@example.org]