The timing of the release of religion-wise data from the 2011 census by the NDA regime at the Centre is set to have political resonance in poll-bound Bihar where the electoral arithmetic has revolved around caste equations so far.
There have been strong communal overtones in state politics recently, with chief minister Nitish Kumar suggesting motives behind a series of minor communal clashes. The entry of Hyderabad-based AIMIM in the electoral fray is expected to trigger further debate on communal polarisation.
Kept under wraps for close to a year-and-a-half, the religion-wise data released on Tuesday reveal Muslim population in Bihar increased 28% between 2001 and 2011 as against the national average of 24.6%.
Muslims’ population in Bihar rose from 1.32 crore in 2001 to 1.76 crore in 2011 – a jump of over 38 lakh in 10 years. During the same period, Hindu population in the state rose 24.6% as against the national average of 16.8%.
But, with this election turning into a Nitish Kumar versus Narendra Modi contest, national figures showing a slight decline in the proportion of Hindu population to the total as against a marginal increase in case of Muslims could dominate the poll campaign.
Reacting strongly to the timing of the release, the Congress said it was an effort to create a divide between Hindus and Muslims.
“Instead of releasing the statistics on economic and social status of different castes, the government has released the census data on religious lines. Their agenda is clear: to create differences among Hindus and Muslims apart from communalising and polarising Bihar elections,” Bihar Congress president Ashok Chowdhary said.
The Bihar CM recently alleged there was an increase in small incidents of “communal nature” ever since his Janata Dal (United) parted ways with the BJP. Behind this, Nitish alleged, there was a move to communalise the elections.
So far, the debate in Bihar has centred around the consolidation of different castes in favour of the BJP-led alliance, with Muslims said to be staying with the Congress-RJD-JD(U) combine.
The census data showed Muslims continued to have a strong presence in Kishanganj (68%), Katihar (44%), Araria (43%) and Purnia (38%) districts of Seemanchal region where the BJP fared badly in the last Lok Sabha elections.