Assam's religious demography data in census 2011 may come as a shocker

When the religion-based population census for 2011 is unveiled, it is likely to generate another bout of hand-wringing among Hindu groups.

While it is fairly certain that the official Hindu population will fall below 80 percent for the first time ever, thanks to higher birth rates among Muslims relative to Hindus for more than a century, of particular interest will be the trends in Assam, West Bengal and Bihar – three states where normal growth in population is exacerbated by a possible influx from Bangladesh.

Assams religious demography data in census 2011 may come as a shocker

Muslim population in Assam is on the rise. AFP

The Assam Tribune claims that in several districts of the state, especially the areas bordering Bangladesh, Muslim growth rates are higher than the state’s average of just under 17 percent between 2001 and 2011. The Assam Tribune’s man in Delhi, quoting anonymous home ministry sources, says that seven or eight Muslim-dominated districts – including Dhubri, Goalpara, Nagaon, Hailakandi, Barpeta and Morigaon – recorded “growth rates ranging from 20 percent to 24 percent during the last decade. On the other hand, the eastern Assam districts, mostly in upper Assam, registered around a nine percent population growth.” One other district with near-50 percent Muslim concentrations is Karimganj but the report does not talk about this district.

If the Assam Tribune has got it right, it would explain why the BJP is gaining traction in upper Assam, the traditional Assamese bastion. With seven out of 14 seats in the states, the BJP won largely in the Assamese (and Hindu) majority areas of north and central Assam, while the Muslim AUDF won three in the Muslim-dominated districts. The Congress won three and an independent won in Kokrajhar, the heart of Bodoland, but which is facing demographic pressures from Dhubri, which is three-quarters Muslim. Interestingly, Nagaon is with the BJP since 1999, thanks to its MP Ramen Deka. This assumes significance as places like Moirabari and Hojai often claim headlines for alleged explosion of population due to constant influx of illegal Muslim immigrants. Hojai is also home to AUDF chief Badruddin Ajmal.

It is in the shifting demographic plates in Kokrajhar that resulted in the Muslim-Bodo clashes of 2012 and even earlier this year. The Bodos fear a diminution in their electoral clout due to Muslim population growth and ingress into Kokrajhar.

A few things can be speculated upon, if the 2011 census figures reported by the Assam Tribune are anywhere near correct.

First, it is unlikely that the influx from Bangladesh has abated, though several academics have claimed that is the case.

Second, given the communal tensions generated by this influx, the chances are Muslims and non-Muslims are consolidating in the areas where they dominate for safety.

Three, the Congress – which has traditionally based its dominance in state politics on a mix of Assamese and Bengali Muslim support, is in danger of falling between two stools. The Muslim support is heading for the Assam United Democratic Front headed by businessman Badruddin Ajmal, who is also eyeing neighbouring West Bengal for growth.

Four, the BJP will find stronger roots as the traditional non-Muslim Assamese vote drifts towards national parties rather than regional parties such as the AGP – which was a complete no-show in the Lok Sabha polls.

Five, the census results in Assam may come as a shocker, but of equal importance will be the religious demography changes in West Bengal and Bihar, where too the Bangladeshi influx has been significant. Both Lalu Prasad and Mamata Banerjee depend on this votebank. It is worth recalling that most of the RJD’s seats were won in eastern Bihar, which is closer to Bangladesh.

The religious census is going to stir a hornets’ nest. Little wonder the UPA was in no hurry to release it before it went. Now it can blame the BJP for stirring up communalism.

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Updated Date: Sep 03, 2014 18:35:05 IST

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