The crucial Muslim vote in Assam will not go to the Badaruddin Ajmal-led AlUDF but to the Congress, the state's three-time chief Minister Tarun Gogoi has claimed. The former Chief Minister's startling claim comes two days ahead of the crucial second phase of the general elections, when five of Assam's 14 seats go to polls.
"Muslims in Assam have realised that it Congress can ensure them their rights, and in some time even the linguistic minorities (the Bengali-speaking Hindus) will also come to our fold," Mr Gogoi told NDTV.
Muslims comprise around 35 per cent of Assam's electorate and four of its 14 Lok Sabha seats are Muslim majority. In 2014, Badruddin Ajmal's party had won three of those four seats, the last had gone to the Congress/BJP
Barring the tribal dominated autonomous district Lok Sabha seat, the Muslim voters hold the key in four other constituencies - Silchar and Karimganj in south Assam and Mangaldoi and Nagaon in central Assam. Election on all four seats will be held on April 18.
In an exclusive interview to NDTV on the last day of campaigning today, Mr Gogoi hinted that recapturing the Muslim votebank in Assam is key to the Congress strategy.
Initially, Assam's Muslims were a part of the Congress's voter base, but they have slowly drifted towards the perfume baron's party since it was formed in 2005. His staunchest support base are the Bengali-speaking Muslims.
In 2014, the AIDUF won three Lok Sabha seats, while the BJP had won seven and the Congress three seats. In the assembly elections two years later, the BJP swept the state, winning 60 of the state's 126 seats. Its alliance partners AGP and BPF won 14 and 12 seats. The AIUDF had won 13 seats, lesser then 18 it won in 2011.
Mr Gogoi said Badruddin Ajmal's party and the BJP are polarising the voters.
"There is an understanding between Himanta and Ajmal," Mr Gogoi said, referring to Himanta Biswa Sarma, Assam minister and the architect of the BJP's expansion in the northeast. "If Ajmal polarised Muslim votes, it helps the BJP to polarise Hindu votes," Mr Gogoi added.
Badaruddin Ajmal -- a parliamentarian from Assam's Dhubri - had pledged support to the UPA ahead of the 2014 elections. Ahead of the 2016 assembly polls, there were suggestions from Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar - then a key leader of the opposition -- that the Congress form an alliance with Badruddin Ajmal and the Asom Gana Parishad. When that did not materialise, Mr Ajmal had said if the BJP wins, the Congress would be "100 per cent responsible" for it.