A policy of spectre-mongeringhttps://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/a-policy-of-spectre-mongering/

A policy of spectre-mongering

Sangh Parivar has zeroed in on Census 2011’s data on religion. But Modi government needs to go back to the Sachar report.

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The prevalent poverty and illiteracy in the Muslim community is largely responsible for its higher population growth.

It is of great concern that the BJP rakes up issues that suit its vote-bank politics and can polarise voters. During the Jana Sangh days, S.P. Mookerjee disputed Article 370 of the Constitution, which gave special status to Jammu and Kashmir. This was followed by the issues of cow slaughter and common civil code. In the late 1980s, the BJP vowed to build a temple at the birthplace of Ram, which created unprecedented communal tension. This was used for political benefit and then discarded post-elections. The question of conversion and “love jihad” are the BJP’s latest ammunition. Whether these new issues have political potential or not will be understood in 2017, when Uttar Pradesh holds its next assembly election.

However, these are likely to lose steam by the time the 2019 general elections are announced. To pre-empt this, the BJP and Sangh Parivar have been looking for a new issue. They have zeroed in on Census 2011’s data on religion. It is a time-bomb waiting to explode. Sensing its potential, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh mischievously leaked the report’s highlights to coincide with the Delhi Assembly election campaign. The home minister further announced that the census’s data on religion would be released soon.

The question is why. What was the hurry for such sensitive information to be leaked on the eve of the Delhi polls? The motive is easily discernible. First BJP MP Sakshi Maharaj and then a shankaracharya made a strong pitch to increase the Hindu population’s growth rate. Both separately asked Hindu women to give birth to four to 10 children. It is evident that this is part of the Sangh’s well-planned agenda for future political action. Their new drumbeats relate to the Muslim population in India growing faster than the Hindu population, creating a feeling of insecurity in the majority community. It may be a matter of fact, but there are reasons that the Sangh would never like to understand nor explain.

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While analysing the reasons for the disproportionate population growth of both communities, one must not forget that this symptom was first identified and strongly underlined by the Sachar committee in 2006. The committee was appointed by the Congress-led UPA government in 2005 to “obtain relevant information and conduct a literature survey on the relative social, economic and educational status of Muslims in India at the state, region and district level”. While recommending measures to uplift the status of Muslims in India, the committee concluded that “[in] India, population of all major religions have [sic] experienced large growth in the recent past but the growth among Muslims has been higher than average”. Quoting home ministry sources and the home minister himself, some newspapers have peered into the yet-to-be released Census 2011 religion data. The report says, “The share of Hindus in India has shown the sharpest dip in a decade since Independence and has dropped below 80 per cent.” It further says, “The 2011 religion census data also shows that the share of Muslims in the population has risen 80 basis points from 13.4 per cent in 2001 to 14.2 per cent, with some border states showing a high increase. The decadal increase in share, however, is lower than the 1.7 percentage points increase registered in the previous decade, 1991-2001.”

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India’s census is conducted by the Office of the Registrar General and Census Commissioner, which works under the home ministry. Its mandate is only to compile data and release it. It does not analyse the reasons behind the changes. The Sachar committee did this job extensively and underlined unambiguously that Muslims are far more backward than Hindus in every respect, particularly on socioeconomic and educational fronts. The prevalent poverty and illiteracy in the Muslim community is largely responsible for its higher population growth. Economic advances generally check the unbridled growth of population in any community. The Hindu community is the best proof of this theory.

Population explosion was much talked about in the 1970s and 1980s. A number of awareness schemes to downsize the family were launched by the Union government. These were supplemented by the government with measures to increase literacy and prosperity. The Hindu community and other minorities grabbed these opportunities and benefited. Muslims, unfortunately, were left behind. This is evident from the fact that the population growth rate of Muslims in the second last decade was higher than that in the last decade. The religion data of Census 2011 clearly states this. This means that, between 2001-11, the pace of economic and educational growth among Muslims has picked up. If this pace keeps up, the BJP will have to find other issues to play communal politics with.

Despite the obvious silver-lining of the population control programme, the BJP is bound to play up an imaginary threat to the majority community and call for larger families, ignoring that the government it is heading at the Centre is running a robust family planning programme whose achievements are commendable. For example, the fertility rate in India has gone down from 5.7 in 1966 to 3.5 in 1997 and 2.7 in 2009. Similarly, contraceptive use among married women has more than tripled from 13 per cent in 1970 to 48 per cent in 2009. The directive principle for the 12th Five Year Plan is: “Family planning shall be a central part of our efforts to ensure universal access to health.” India is able to prevent approximately 16 million births every year through its family planning programme. Does the BJP want to reverse this?

Instead, the government should revisit the recommendations of the Sachar committee report to focus on the uplift of the Muslim community. I commend the UPA’s decision to set up the committee. But the extensive sarkari programme for the welfare of Muslims could not be fully implemented due to the lack of coordination between the Union and state governments. If the BJP and the new regime in Delhi are afraid that Hindus will become a minority, the best way to scuttle that imaginary scenario is to implement the recommendations of the Sachar committee aggressively. Muslims, particularly those belonging to the middle- and lower-middle class segments, are willing to join the mainstream lifestyle. They prefer to send their children to better schools and are queueing for jobs.

An upgrade to their lifestyle will encourage them to downsize their families. The new Muslim youth practise monogamy. Can the BJP recognise this trend among Muslims and abandon the idea of killing the beautiful concept of “chhota parivar, sukhi parivar”?

The writer is a former MP and senior Congress leader