“That may be like going back on everything the two parties have said during the election campaign, but that is politics,” said a senior leader of the All India United Democratic Front.
The leader said AIUDF chief Ajmal had been approached by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
“BJP leader Himanta Biswa Sarma has had a few rounds of discussions with Ajmal and it looks like Ajmal has decided to go with the BJP if the Congress doesn’t win enough seats to merit a coalition,” the source said.
Ajmal has told the media: “All depends on how many seats goes to who. That will influence our decision whom to support.”
But he dodged questions on whether he will insist on not supporting the BJP come what may.
Before the two-phase assembly elections began in Assam, Ajmal had said there was no question of supporting the BJP and that the Congress could be backed if they dropped Tarun Gogoi as chief minister.
“Gogoi is a failure,” said Ajmal, reviving the personal feud that erupted in 2006 when Gogoi said “Ajmal kaun hai?” (Who is Ajmal?)
The BJP leadership is confident that the alliance it leads will emerge as the single largest block in the 126-member assembly even if it doesn’t get a clear majority.
“Our first choice will be to win over the independents, some of whom may win. But if we still need some support, the only party we can go to is the AIUDF,” said a top BJP leader.
Not everyone feels this can happen.
“The BJP is out to detect and deport illegal migrants from Bangladesh, at least that is their main poll plank, while the AIUDF is seen as a party of those very illegal migrants,” said Samir Purkayastha, a political analyst who has written extensively on Assam.
Purkayastha says the AIUDF is not keen on an alliance with the Congress because they see a competition between them for the minority support base.
Ajmal is also known for his close relations with Himanta Biswa Sarma from the latter’s days in the Gogoi cabinet.
Sarma could well be trying to use his friendship with Ajmal and Bodo leader Hangrama Mohilary to outgun BJP’s declared chief minister candidate Sarbananda Sonowal.
Sonowal is hugely popular amongst ethnic Assamese and tribals for his spirited legal challenge that led to the scrapping of the IMDT act of 1983 that was seen as protective of illegal migrants.
Political analyst Amarjyoti Bora says that if the BJP-led alliance falls short of the majority, Sarma will use his clout with alliance partners AGP and Bodoland Peoples Front for the numero uno position, more so if the BJP has to lean on the AIUDF to take power.
“Ajmal may not agree to go with the BJP if it sticks with Sonowal as chief minister. So Sarma may be the compromise candidate,” said Purkayastha.
Sarma and Ajmal reportedly started their confabulations immediately after the Assam polls ended on April 11.
“If they don’t win a majority, the BJP is looking at a Kashmir-type situation. The only difference is that in Assam the BJP will be the senior partner and the AIUDF the junior partner,” said analyst Bora.
AIUDF founder Hafiz Rashid Chowdhury, now with the Samata Party, says if Ajmal goes with the BJP, he will “betray the basic spirit of minority politics in Assam”.
Many in AIUDF don’t agree.
“If we have an alliance with a party which is in power in the Centre, Assam will get a lot of development funds,” says AIUDF activist Abu Sufian.
That could well be Ajmal’s selling point if he seeks to ally with the BJP.
For the BJP, shaking hands with AIUDF will be a drop from the high cloud of anti-migrant rhetoric to the more mundane talk of governance.
The Congress is also keen on an alliance with the AIUDF but it will be in business only if it gets close to 50 seats and the AIUDF manages a 15-plus score.