Modi-linked Hindu group stirs Muslim tensions ahead of elections

Hindus constitute 80 per cent of India’s nearly 1.4 billion population, while Muslims account for a little over 14 per cent. PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW DELHI - A Hindu group linked to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party called for a national population policy that appeared aimed at minority Muslims, stoking religious tensions ahead of two key state elections.

Mr Dattatreya Hosabale, general secretary of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh - the ideological parent of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party - said on Wednesday that the Hindu majority was declining due to religious conversions and illegal migration.

He provided no data for his claim, which is commonly repeated among right-wing Hindu groups that seek to erode India’s traditional secular character.

“The population of Hindus has gone down owing to conversions in some parts of our country,” Mr Hosabale said at a press conference.

“There is a need for this subject to be considered holistically so that a uniform national population policy can be framed and made applicable to all.”

The inflammatory comments come ahead of elections in the northern state of Himachal Pradesh and Mr Modi’s home state of Gujarat later this year. National elections are also less than two years away.

The unfounded idea that India’s Muslim population will become dominant has long been pushed by the Hindu nationalist BJP and its allies like the RSS.

Hindus constitute 80 per cent of India’s nearly 1.4 billion population, while Muslims account for a little over 14 per cent.

India’s population growth is already slowing, driven by a steady decline in fertility rates.

While Muslims have a slightly higher fertility rate than Hindus, it’s also falling at a faster rate, according to data from successive rounds of the National Family Health Survey.

If those growth rates held steady and were projected into the future, it will take until the 26th century for India to become a Muslim-majority nation.

But that hasn’t deterred several BJP-ruled states - including Uttar Pradesh, Assam, Karnataka and Gujarat - to consider population control legislation.

The push to change laws signals rising anti-Muslim sentiment in the country and the power of Mr Modi’s party to implement a Hindu nationalist agenda.

It has taken a series of steps targeting the minority population since Mr Modi extended his power with a stronger mandate in 2019.

The government ended special constitutional autonomy for Jammu and Kashmir, India’s only Muslim-majority region, and has started the construction of a Hindu temple in north India at a disputed site where a medieval mosque once stood.

It has also implemented a religion-based citizenship law that bars Muslims from neighbouring Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh from seeking citizenship while allowing people of other faiths.

Mr Hosabale also said existing laws to prevent religious conversion need to be implemented strictly.

The RSS has long pushed back against conversion, especially those they say are a result of force or allurement, specifically through marriage.

Some states, including Uttar Pradesh, have enacted laws against so-called “love jihad” - a reference to an alleged conspiracy of Muslim men luring Hindu women into marriage for conversion. BLOOMBERG

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