Guwahati, Feb. 16: The All India United Democratic Front has proven its mettle again in the just concluded panchayat polls, winning the maximum number of seats after the ruling Congress.
Even chief minister Tarun Gogoi grudgingly admitted that AIUDF had emerged as a "strong political force" in the state.
Out of the 424 zila parishads, polling was conducted in 405 and results were declared for 369 today.
Out of this Congress bagged 251 seats, AIUDF 62, AGP 26, BJP 11 and others managed 19.
Gogoi's admission is significant given the fact that in 2006, he had shot back at reporters who asked him about the possibility of forming a coalition with the Ajmal-led AIUDF just before the Assembly polls that year: "Who is Badruddin Ajmal?"
Since then, from 10 seats in its Assembly poll debut in 2006, the AIUDF, which represents primarily the interests of Muslim migrants of Assam, managed to win 18 seats in 2011 and become the main Opposition in the Assembly.
The AGP could win just 10 seats, down from 24, while the BJP had to be content with just five seats against 10 in the 2006 Assembly polls.
While the AIUDF opened its account in the Lok Sabha in 2010 by winning the Dhubri seat, the party stood third in terms of vote percentage secured in the last panchayat polls in 2008.
"Coming to power for the third time on the trot in panchayats is evidence of the fact that the people of Assam are happy with the progress and changes that the ruling Congress could bring about in the state in its more-than-a-decade stint at Dispur. The panchayat poll contest was a one-sided game this time as there was no strong opposition," Gogoi told the reporters today at Rajiv Bhawan, the state Congress headquarters here.
The chief minister, however, said with the AGP and BJP nowhere close to the Congress, the AIUDF had emerged as the only strong opponent. He said a strong opposition against a democratically elected government was a necessity.
While stating that the violence that broke out in BTAD in July last year had helped the AIUDF garner more votes than in previous elections, he said, "Like BJP, the AIUDF, too, is playing with religious sentiments of a particular community to gain votes."
Ajmal, however, rejected Gogoi's allegation that the BTAD violence had helped his party win seats in the panchayat polls and said the party had never played with religious sentiments.
"There was no BTAD violence when the AIUDF won 18 seats in the 2011 Assembly elections. We gave tickets to candidates of different communities and religions and they won this year's panchayat elections. The people, especially the minorities, have had bitter experiences in the past with the way the Congress uses them as vote banks and thus shifted their loyalty to AIUDF," Ajmal said.
"The panchayat polls were not conducted in a free and fair manner. My party could have won more seats if it had been fair. Anyway, the party is grateful to the people and promise that it would act as a strong opposition to stop the ruling Congress's autocracy and anti-people policies," he added.
Sources in the state election commission told The Telegraph that going by the results declared so far, the AIUDF would be the second largest party after Congress in this year's panchayat polls.