A group of leaders associated with the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF), led by Lok Sabha MP Badruddin Ajmal, had launched a legal battle in 2011, portraying themselves as the sole saviours of ‘Doubtful Voters’ or ‘D-voters’ in Assam. Sensing political gains with the status quo, the allegedly compromised leaders have not only withdrawn the case in spite of positive response from the court, but have also betrayed Bangla-speaking Muslims and Hindus through false promises.
It all started with the Election Commission of India issuing a circular on January 5, 1996 in Assam, instructing authorities to verify the citizenship status of those belonging to erstwhile East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). In pursuance of these instructions, intensive revision of electoral roll in the state began in 1997. Verification was done through local verification officers (LVOs) who were supposed to go door-to-door. There are allegations that they do not really go to the villages, but mark the letter ‘D’ against the names of those electors whom they randomly pick from the voters’ list.
There are various instances wherein married women have been declared ‘D-voters’ when they failed to produce valid papers at the time of verification. In majority of such cases, the women had shifted to their husband’s place, leaving all their documents at their parents’ house. Before they could produce the required documents to the verifying authorities after collecting them from their parents’ house, they were declared ‘D-voters’. There are several cases where women have been declared doubtful on the basis of minor clerical errors in their certificates.
In Muslim-majority areas, there are no industries. A large number of people migrate to Upper Assam districts – which have large number of industries such as tea, oil and fertilisers – to earn a living. Local lawyers say that the police approach these migrants and inquire about their place of residence. When they inform the police that they are from a Lower Assam village, and fail to produce documents of the temporary residence, they are declared ‘D-Voter’ in some Upper Assam district, which they do not even belong to.
“Regarding all this, the AIUDF leaders requested me to file a PIL (Public Interest Litigation) saying that lakhs of people are being harassed in the name of ‘D-voters’. Initially, I refused and told them that I do not trust their leader because of his conduct. But I was persuaded to go ahead by one of the AIUDF MLAs, who was my teacher. When he became angry, I agreed to file a case,” Advocate Moizuddin Mahmud told Newsclick.
After a month of hard labour with 4-5 of his juniors, he said, he drafted a petition and filed it in the Gauhati High Court in February 2011. The case was sent to a division bench presided over by Justice AK Goel, who is now in the Supreme Court. “I argued my case for three consecutive days, but the judges were not satisfied. On the fourth day, when I started arguing the case citing various international laws, they got convinced and told me that there is substance in my case and there cannot be ‘D-voters’. There can only be Indians or foreigners. The case was admitted, and I was asked to submit a list of ‘D-voters’ from across the state. They assured us that the court will provide a relief to all those who have been declared doubtful,” he said.
He said it was a big occasion for him, his team and Bangla-speaking Hindus and Muslims in Assam who are facing “persecution”. “We were expecting that we would get relief now. I asked the 19 MLAs, on whose behalf I had filed the PIL, to provide me the list of ‘D-voters’. They sought some time from me because it was a complex task as there were over 3 lakh D-voters all over Assam. I took time of 25 days from the court to submit the list. After 25 days, the legislators told me that they would need further time as they are collecting more names. I took 20 days’ time and the court allowed it,” he said.
But what happened after that was beyond the imagination of the senior lawyer. “I got a call on June 24, 2011, from Munawwar Hussain – who was my teacher. He told me to withdraw the case. After my investigation, I came to know that AIUDF Chief Ajmal had instructed him to ask me to withdraw the case fearing that any relief by the high court to the ‘D-voters’ will snatch away the party’s agenda to ask for votes,” Mahmud alleged.
He went on to say that “Ajmal is not an aalim(scholar) but a zaalim(insidious). He might be regarded as angel, but for us, he is a devil”.
“We are lawyers and we cannot go beyond the advice of our client. Therefore, I requested the court on June 25, 2011 – when the matter was listed for hearing – that I want to withdraw the case. The court was extremely angry with me, arguing that I caused a loss of its valuable time. The court would have imposed a fine on me. I argued that I seek withdrawal on the ground of some technical error which we will rectify and file it again. The court agreed, and the matter was dismissed,” the lawyer – who was advocate on record – said.
The AIUDF MLAs rubbished the allegation adding that the PIL was withdrawn on technical grounds. “The citizenship issue and people’s harassment are at the top on our party’s agenda. We are fighting many cases in the high court and the Supreme Court. We have met the National Security Advisor, the Union Home Minister and other authorities concerned with this issue,” AIUDF leader Hafiz Bashir Ahmed told Newsclick, during abrief conversation over phone.
The AIUDF, one of the major political parties in Assam, claims to be a champion of the “cause of Muslims” in the state.
The AIUDF was initially called the Assam United Democratic Front (AUDF), but it was rechristened in 2009. In the 2016 assembly elections in Assam, the AIUDF bagged 13 out of 126 seats with a 13 per cent vote share. The party currently holds three seats in Lok Sabha, but has no representatives in Rajya Sabha.
Ajmal claims that the party was formed to give voice to the oppressed and marginalised people in Assam. It also has a visible presence in the state of West Bengal where the AIUDF contested 14 Lok Sabha seats in the 2009 general elections. The party has also attempted to make inroads in West Bengal contesting seats from the state in the last two Lok Sabha polls.
The party rose to prominence over the years on the back of its anti-Congress campaign and even though the BJP appeared an ideological opponent, ousting the Congress from the state which formed three successive governments became its priority.
Party’s leader Ajmal is a member of Lok Sabha from Dhubri constituency. He is also the chief of Assam State Jamia-Ulema-e-Hind (Mahmud Madani faction) and a member of the Darul Uloom Deoband.