The latest data of the 2011 census released on the basis of religious communities has far-reaching implications for Assam, particularly in its socio-political sphere. It is also likely to add to the religion-based political divide at the tiol level. The UPA government sat long over the report prepared early in 2014, supposedly fearing it would give an advantage to the Hindutva forces before the Lok Sabha elections. After the rendra Modi-led BJP came to power at the Centre, the Registrar General and Census Commissioner has been releasing the religious census data in instalments since last year. This has prompted the Congress, the Left and some regiol parties to accuse the NDA government of ‘stirring up commulism’ and thereby seeking to polarise the electorate — particularly in Bihar and Assam facing Assembly elections in less than a year. Whatever be the merit of these allegations, a population survey carried out by the government incorporating various parameters, including caste and religion, must not be suppressed even partially with the argument that political parties will give their own ‘spin’ and capitalise on the data. So what do the latest religious census data reveal about Assam? The State recorded the fastest increase in share of Muslims in its total population, up by 3.3 per cent from 30.9 per cent in 2001 census to 34.2 per cent in 2011. Assam stands second after Jammu & Kashmir (68.3 per cent) and ahead of West Bengal (27 per cent) as the top three states having the largest share of Muslims.
If more than one-third of the population in Assam is now Muslim, exactly one-third (i.e. nine) of its 27 districts are also presently Muslim domited. The 2001 census had recorded six Assam districts as Muslim domited, mely Dhubri, Barpeta, Karimganj, Goalpara, Hailakandi and gaon. At that time, the Muslim population in Bongaigaon stood at 38.5 per cent, Darrang at 35.5 per cent and Morigaon at 47.6 per cent. According to the 2011 census, Muslims are now the majority in these three districts as well. Other districts with significant (and growing) share of Muslim population are Cachar, lbari and Kamrup. At the tiol level, the growth rate of Muslim population was around 29 per cent between 1991 and 2001. It has come down to 24.6 per cent as per the 2011 census, though this growth rate is still higher than the tiol average of 18 per cent for the decade (2001-11). But the growth rate of Muslims in Assam districts bordering Bangladesh seems to be much higher, which clearly points to continuing immigration from the neighbouring country and resultant demographic change in large parts of this State. There have been concerted efforts by some quarters to claim that immigration from Bangladesh into East and Northeast India has been declining since 1971. But the latest census data show otherwise. The data prove that Muslim population growth rates have been higher than their tiol decadal average of 24.6 per cent in NE states like Assam, galand, Meghalaya, Manipur, Mizoram and Aruchal Pradesh. Bihar, West Bengal and Tripura too have shown significant rise in their Muslim populations, all of which cannot be explained away as mere tural growth in birth rates. The answer has to be unchecked immigration.
tiolly, despite the slowdown in growth rate of the Muslim population by around 4.5 per cent, the percentage of Muslims in total population has gone up by 0.8 per cent from 13.4 per cent in 2001 to 14.2 per cent in 2011. Of India’s total population of 121 crores — Hindus make up 79.8 per cent of the population at 96.63 crores, while Muslims number 17.22 crore. Hindus are growing at 16.8 per cent and Christians at 15.5 per cent, while the growth rates of Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains are less than 10 per cent. Factors like poverty and general backwardness have been cited as the major reasons for the still high Muslim growth rate. In Assam, parties like Badaruddin Ajmal’s AIUDF may seek to consolidate the Muslim vote-bank at the expense of the Congress if the electorate gets polarised, with saffron parties like the BJP gaining at the other side of the religious-political divide. But using dry statistics to carry forward cynical politics will never pay in the long run. Assam with its 3.2 crore population cannot hope to prosper if Muslims, indigenous or properly turalised, continue to be neglected and discrimited against. Overall, India by 2050 is projected to surpass Indonesia as the country with the largest Muslim population in the world, where Muslims are likely to number 31 crores and form 18 per cent of the population. These are gargantuan numbers, representing multitudes of people with aspirations to lead a good life. Practicality dictates that no political party will be able to dispense with secularism, that every population group must be taken on board and given its rightful space and share of power. Clearly, the country has to search deep within itself to make its ideal of secularism not only a working concept, but an unshakable pillar of a truly enlightened, developed society. How the mixed electorates of Bihar and Assam negotiate their way ahead in the coming Assembly elections will be a pointer to things ahead.