The release of religion data from Census 2011 has stoked fears of a “demographic invasion” in Assam and allowed some political parties to rake up their pet issue of an influx of Bangladeshis ahead of the 2016 assembly polls.
Country’s Muslim population grew marginally from 13.4% in 2001 to 14.2% in 2011, according to data released by the Central government on Tuesday. Assam recorded the highest decadal increase in the Muslim population, up from 30.9% in 2001 to 34.2% in 2011.
The population of Hindus in Assam registered a decrease of 4.4% during this period, going from 64.9% to 61.5%.
Though Assam has a sizeable population of indigenous Muslims, the community has invariably been equated with Bangladeshis, whose illegal entry is blamed on poor border management.
The issue came into sharp focus during the Assam Agitation from 1979 to 1985, culminating in the signing of an accord for detecting and deporting illegal migrants.
“This (census data) is the official acknowledgement of our fear that the indigenous people in Assam would be wiped out by Bangladeshis,” said Abhijit Sarma, the head of an NGO that champions the cause of indigenous peoples.
“Less than 10 years ago, Assam’s electoral rolls had 40 lakh excess voters, and everyone knows who they are,” he added.
The ruling Congress party said the data was deliberately released ahead of assembly polls in
, Assam and
– three states with significant Muslim populations.
“We have serious doubts on the entire working mechanism of the census declaration when the leadership of the country is in the hands of a non-secular party. The release of the data at this juncture is politically motivated and meant for propaganda,” said a spokesperson of the Assam Pradesh Congress Committee.
The BJP declined to comment, but a senior leader said, “Figures arrived at after years of painstaking fieldwork do not lie.”
The All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF), headed by perfume baron Maulana Badruddin Ajmal, felt the BJP might use the data as a weapon to target Bengali-speaking Muslims irrespective of their citizenship.
“This has given the BJP the scope to raise the Bangladeshi bogey while ignoring the fact that Muslims are at the bottom of the development index,” AIUDF leader Aminul Islam said.
The AIUDF has emerged as a major challenge to the Congress in Muslim-dominated areas of Assam since its birth in 2005.
Muslims are a majority or share equal space in nine of Assam’s 27 districts. They are numerically stronger in 31 of the state’s 126 assembly constituencies.