Tempo over citizenship Bill lost, don’t think it will hurt BJP: Badruddin Ajmal, AIUDF president

The perfume baron has emerged as a prominent leader of the Bengali-speaking Muslim community in Assam, many of whose members feel targeted by the National Register of Citizens exercise.

The chief of the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF), Badruddin Ajmal is all set to re-contest from Dhubri, the seat from where he has been elected to Parliament the last two times. The perfume baron has emerged as a prominent leader of the Bengali-speaking Muslim community in Assam, many of whose members feel targeted by the National Register of Citizens exercise.

How many seats will the AIDUF contest?

Seven-eight seats… the final decision is awaited. I will contest from Dhubri. What we will keep in mind (while deciding) is that not even one seat should go to the BJP (because of division of anti-BJP votes).

Will you tie up with the Congress?

I can’t say we haven’t spoken, neither can I say we have spoken. I will say something to you and then they will deny it. They start talking, we talk about seats, and then their Muslim leaders go and put pressure in Delhi. I want to ask them, has any of your Muslim leaders won as MP? Ajmal saheb has won twice, and will win a third time.

If such a time comes, will you support the UPA or NDA?

There is no question of supporting the NDA.

Supporting the Centre’s Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, Assam Finance Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma had said that 17 Assembly constituencies of Assam would go to “Jinnah” and you would become the CM of the state if the Bill was not passed. What do you think about it?

We as a party haven’t commented on Sarma’s statement. What can we say? One man has gone mad, what can we do? If an animal is barking on the roads, what will you do? Let him be. The Congress government in the state — of which he was a part — is responsible for allowing illegal Bangladeshis in the state. How many have they deported? They didn’t. This communal divide will not work.

On what issues will you counter the BJP?

There are numerous issues against the BJP. In my constituency, not even a stone has been put up for construction under Prime Minister’s schemes. (Narendra) Modi has not fulfilled any of the promises he made. He has only been successful in ensuring that Muslims are harassed in this country one way or the other — be it for cows or a mosque. For the BJP, the communal agenda is more important and development is secondary.

There is a general impression that you only represent Muslims. To be specific, Bengali-speaking Muslims of the state.

That’s false. None of my comments in Parliament has been communal. They (the BJP) are just creating fear in the minds of our Hindu brothers. They will say ‘Sher aaya, sher aaya. Kaun aaya, Ajmal aaya. He will raise the Pakistani flag in the Assembly’. They should talk about a constructive agenda and give employment to the poor. The more they abuse me, the poor get scared and ask themselves, ‘Who will save us? Ajmal saheb will save us’.

Why did you oppose the citizenship Bill?

I was the only MP to oppose it on the floor of the House. I firmly believe citizenship should not be granted based on religion. There are many unhappy Muslims in Pakistan, then they should also be granted Indian citizenship.

Do you think the widespread protests in Assam against the Bill before it lapsed will hamper the BJP’s prospects?

At first, I actually thought they would. But then I realised the ‘josh (passion)’ of the protests has gone down. I don’t know why… As the tempo is lost, I don’t think it will affect the BJP.

What about the NRC process?

The state government and those of the likes of Sarma wanted at least 1 crore Muslims out of the NRC. But the NRC updation was a Supreme Court-monitored process, so that didn’t happen. The outcome of the NRC will not affect us, because we never made it a poll issue. We fought for the NRC to be implemented, but it is not an election issue for us.

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