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Of Figures And Indian Fascists

by J. Sri Raman, 15 September 2004

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by J. Sri Raman

13 September, 2004

We have heard of chemical warfare, the kind witnessed in the U.S. defoliation campaign in Vietnam. Of biological warfare, which the U.S. Government waged by donating smallpox-infected blankets to Native Americans long before the advent of anthrax terrorism. Not, however, of population warfare.

It has been left to the fascists of India to discover this new dimension to unconventional warfare. And they see in it the cunning, conspiratorial strategy of their main enemy - the country’s religious minorities. It has taken only a single mis-statement of a census official to revive this pet theme of "Hindu nationalists" (a misleading, self-conferred title).

The Indian media have, for a week now, been full of the cries of alarm raised by the far Right over the alleged findings of the first ever religion-based census report by the official Census Commission of India. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), licking its wounds after losing the general election four months ago, has pounced upon the findings to launch a high-decibel campaign in defense of an allegedly endangered majority.

On September 6, Census Commissioner J. K. Banthia released in New Delhi the Census 2001 report, along with a rank misinterpretation of the findings. Almost instantly, all hell broke loose. The allegation that the official was striking a blow for the BJP may appear unfair. He could not have done better, however, if he were.

The report put the growth rate of Muslims at 36 per cent in 1991-2001, a 1.5 per cent rise over the previous 1991 census. The data indicated the Muslims were multiplying faster than in any decade since the country’s independence in 1947 and more than any other community. Correspondingly, said Banthia, the growth rate for Hindus had come down by five per cent to 20.5 per cent. The growth rate for Christians had, according to the report, gone up by over one per cent to 22.6 per cent.

Cold figures? You must have seen them inflame fascist passions. "This is a disturbing development", declared BJP president Venkaiah Naidu. "This imbalance is unhealthy for the unity and integrity of the country." The rest of what the far Right, in a mafia-like metaphor, calls ’parivar’ (’family’), joined in. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the patriarch of the ’parivar’, took a longer-term and larger view. "The Hindus will be reduced to less than of the subcontinent’s population by 2050", said its spokesperson Ram Madhav, making it clear that the RSS was not happy with the Muslim growth rate in neighboring Pakistan and Bangladesh, either!

It was left, however, to the Vishwa Hindu Parshad (VHP), the most vicious member the ’parivar’, to spell out the peril they all saw in the census findings. Chinubhai Patel, a VHP leader in Gujarat (where the ’parivar’ carried out its famous anti-Muslim pogrom in 2002), warned in all seriousness: "The (Muslim) community is conspiring to convert Hindu ’rajya’ (state) into a Muslim country’’!

The BJP-’parivar’ scare campaign against a Muslim "swamping" of the country is pre-dates by at least two decades. The minority is supposed to be advancing towards this objective by two methods. The Muslims, in the first place, are accused of breeding faster than the Hindus by avoiding birth control under the influence of Islamic laws and leadership. The second method is what Naidu calls "demographic invasion" (which comes pretty close to "population warfare"). The Bangladeshi "infiltration" - never "illegal immigration" or anything else of politically innocent import - has intensified the threat of numbers that the "Hindu nation" faces, screams the entire BJP-led bloc.

The census figures even of the flawed set, which the campaigners do not care to quote, show up the ludicrousness of their logic. Of the total Indian population of 1.028 billion at the time of the census, the Hindus totaled 827 million and 80.5 of the population. The Muslims numbered 138 million, comprising 13.4 per cent of the population. The next in size were the Christians (24 million or 2.3 per cent). Census data since 1951, the year of the first Indian head-count, suggest that the Muslim population increases by about one per cent every decade.

Experts have pointed out that, at the same rate, it will take three centuries for India to become a Muslim-majority country! No grave emergency for the ’Hindu nation’, surely, as a hysterical ’parivar’ and hundreds of its websites made it appear on the morrow of the report’s release.

The figures, in any case, have turned out to be fudged. The commission was confronted with the fact that the census 2001 included India’s only Muslim-majority State of Jammu and Kashmir, excluded in the 1991 exercise, and the Northeastern State of Assam, excluded in 1981. After two days of mounting tensions, the commission came out with "adjusted" figures, which told a different story altogether.

They show that that the growth rate of the Hindu population has declined from 22.77 per cent over 1981-91 to 20.02 per cent over 1991-2001, and that of the Muslim population from 32.86 per cent to 29.33 per cent. In other words, the decline in the population growth rate has been greater for the much-maligned Indian Muslims.

The clarification should have ended the controversy. But it could not have. The fascists trying to force their way back into political reckoning cannot do without the windfall issue. BJP spokesperson Arun Jaitley has objected to exclusion of the Assam figures in the process of "adjustment". He argues that the border State is the main recipient of Bangladeshi infiltrators, though the number of the immigrants here can make no serious difference to the demographic picture. Loudmouth VHP leader Praveen Togadia has threatened to take the matter to the court.

Facts have not stopped fascist campaigns and campaigners. Figures are not going to stop them, either.