The disproportionate increase in the Muslim population in eastern India, both on account of continuing migration and higher fertility vis-à-vis other communities, has triggered major demographic distortions. The growth has been particularly steep in Assam, West Bengal, and Bihar, and is nearing double digit figures in Manipur and Tripura (Census 2011 religious demography figures have not been revealed so far).
Censuses since 1951 show a sustained rise in Muslim population, in absolute and percentage terms, and a nation-wide corresponding decline in numbers of Hindu Faiths (Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, and Buddhists). By Census 1981, Muslim population growth stood at nearly 45 per cent higher rate than Hindus and Christians. Census 2001 put the decadal growth rate of Muslims at around 36%, while Hindu growth rate declined from 23 per cent to 20 per cent.
State-wise Religious Demography delineated in Census 2001 (which does not include illegal immigrants without ration / Voter Identity Cards) suggests that huge political changes loom ahead. In eastern India alone, the percentage of Muslim population in the States is, in descending order: Assam (30.92 per cent); West Bengal (25.25 per cent); Bihar (16.53per cent); Manipur (8.81 per cent); Tripura (7.95 per cent); Meghalaya (4.28 per cent); Arunachal Pradesh (1.88 per cent); Nagaland (1.76 per cent); Sikkim (1.42 per cent); Mizoram (1.14 per cent).
In Assam, districts with the highest Muslim populations include, in descending order: Dhubri (74.3 per cent); Barpeta (59.4 per cent); Hailakandi (57.6 per cent); Goalpara (53.7 per cent); Karimganj (52.3 per cent); Nagaon (51 per cent); Marigaon 47.6 per cent); Bongaigaon (38.5 per cent); Cachar (36.1 per cent); Darrang (35.5 per cent); Nalbari (22.1 per cent); Kokrajhar (20.4 per cent). Thus, five districts are already Muslim majority; four are on the way to becoming so.
Similarly, in West Bengal, districts with the highest Muslim population include, in descending order: Murshidabad (63.7 per cent); Maldah (49.7 per cent); Dinajpur (composite) (38.5 per cent); South 24-Parganas (33.2 per cent); Howrah (24.4 per cent); Kooch Behar (24.2 per cent); Kolkata (20.3 per cent).
Can this changing demography be explained as simply the natural movement of peoples in a geo-cultural biosphere which pre-exists current international boundaries? Analysts with deep memories say much of the impetus is political, as Pakistan resented the failure to have Assam included in East Pakistan in 1947.
Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto made a pointed reference to this in his book, Myths of Independence. Even Sheikh Mujibur Rahman (Eastern Pakistan: Its population and Economics) claimed that East Pakistan needed land for expansion and wanted Assam for its abundant forest and mineral resources, coal and petroleum. The original map of the Muslim League before 1947 included the whole of India’s north-east! China is thus a newcomer in the queue for parts of our North-East.
A critical component of the current crisis is that Bodos never comprised the majority in the area carved out for the Bodoland Territorial Council in 2003. The Bangladeshi Muslims who are in majority in Dhubri district bordering Bangladesh are now exerting pressure on the Bodo heartland of Kokrajhar district. They derive political muscle from the All-India United Democratic Front of Maulana Badruddin Ajmal, All-Assam Minority Students Union, and Asom Mia Parishad. The AIUDF demand that the BTC be abolished as Bodos are not the majority in large areas covered by it, or non-Bodo representation be increased, naturally escalates tensions.
The farcical Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunal) Act, which made it virtually impossible to detect and deport nearly two million illegals, has not helped matters. Had the 1985 Assam Accord signed by Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and the All-Assam Student Union been sincerely implemented, the National Register of Citizens would have been updated and curtailed infiltration from Bangladesh. Concerned citizens now feel that Census 1951 – first Census of independent India – should be the basis for the National Register of Citizens.
The gravity of the problem can be seen from Election Commissioner HS Brahma’s admission in a newspaper article that the Election Commission of India has to tackle the problem of nearly 1.5 lakh ‘D-Voters’ (doubtful voters) while preparing the Assam electoral rolls. Currently this matter is sub-judice, but it is a bullet the courts will have to bite eventually as it poses a serious security threat to the nation. India can no longer fight shy of the need to deport illegal migrants. Else it must be prepared for recurrent bouts of bloodletting.