Percentage of Muslims in India grew by just 0.8 in last decade: What are political parties fussing over?

Snatches of information from the religion census, that was compiled in 2011, have started to surface in the mainstream media.

Though the complete findings are yet to be revealed, a report on The Times of India states that the Muslim population in India has grown by 24 percent between 2001 and 2011. Though Muslims now form 14.2 percent of the country's population (as opposed to 13.4 in the last decade) , the rate at which the population has been growing has shown a definite slowing down compared to the decade before that, says the report.

However, despite the slow down of the population growth of Muslims, the UPA allegedly wanted the census data withheld as the country went into polls. TOI reports: "Union home minister Rajnath Singh last week gave his go ahead when Registrar General of India and Census Commissioner C Chandramouli asked whether the “sensitive' figures should be released."

And the BJP, like is evident from the above report, found the data 'sensitive'.

 Percentage of Muslims in India grew by just 0.8 in last decade: What are political parties fussing over?

Representational image. AFP.

While it is difficult to see why both the party considered the rise in the population of Muslims - corresponding to the general rise in population of the country - 'sensitive', the UPA must have dreaded the fact that the BJP's 'illegal immigrant' theory would be proved once the data is revealed. For example, The Times of India report points out that the highest rise in Muslim population has been witnessed in Assam - the state saw the Muslim population rise to 34.2 percent in 2011 from 30.9 in 2011. The report then insists that 'the state has had a persisting problem of illegal influx of Bangladeshi immigrants'.

The report adds that West Bengal, which also reportedly has an illegal immigrant problem, has also show a spike in the Muslim population. "West Bengal, another state where illegal immigration from Bangladesh has been an old phenomenon, has also seen a rise in the share of Muslims in total population from 25.2% in 2001 to 27% in 2011, a growth of 1.8 percentage points over the 10 years, more than double the national average," the report states.

Prior to the election, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, then BJP's PM candidate, had repeatedly accused Congress-ruled Assam and Trinamool Congress-held West Bengal of sheltering illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. In fact, during his campaigning days, Modi had slammed West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee and said, "While the people here don't get jobs, those who infiltrate from Bangladesh are welcomed with red carpet." He had levelled similar allegations against Tarun Gogoi.

The Indian Express reports: "The data, collected during the last Census, is expected to show a growth in Muslim population. While the previous UPA government released the figures related to socio-economic and other indicators, it held back the “religious data”. The BJP had then criticised the government and demanded that it should disclose the entire demographic data."

However, it is interesting to note here that a slight spike in the Muslim population would be considered fodder for a severe political debate by all political parties in the country. The Times of India article tries to put in this into perspective by pointing out that the rise in Muslim population in the decade before last was much more compared to the general increase in population of the country. "While the growth rate of Muslim population has slowed from around 29% between 1991 and 2001, it is still higher than the national average of 18% for the decade," it states.

The census report on 2001 read, as reported by IE, "“populations of all major religions have experienced large growth in the recent past, but growth among Muslims has been higher than average”.

However, here's a round-up of the 2001 census data: "Hindus numbered 82.7 crore, comprisising 80.5 per cent of the total population. The Muslims added up to 13.8 crore (13.4 per cent); Christians 2.4 crore; Sikhs 1.9 crore; Buddhists 79 lakh; Jains 42 lakh."

In a country that prides itself for its plurality that doesn't seem like an 'alarming' statistic or something that should spark political debates. However, in India, every bit of information pertaining to religion holds potential for a political wrestling match.

Updated Date: Jan 23, 2015 08:10:54 IST