Partisan politics promoting population proliferation in India

The impending calamity of the population pralay has nudged awake the Indian establishment, intellectuals, policy makers and political leaders.

Published: 17th July 2022 07:17 AM  |   Last Updated: 18th July 2022 06:33 PM   |  A+A-

Image for representational purpose only.

A doomsday prophesy of caterwauling Cassandras is coming true. India's growth rate is going vertical -- more so of its humongous population. In less that a year, we will have the dubious distinction of being the world's most populous nation. As India adds around 3700 individuals hourly to its denizen count, the 1500-million mark will flash by the 2030 milestone faster than the Chinese can spell 'Wuhan'. Even at the highest current rate of economic growth, this ridiculous record indicates that over 500 million Indians would be still leading a BPL existence. In spite of all our technological triumphs, most Indians are unlikely to get uninterrupted electricity supply and drinking water. Our economic and social gains will sink under the pains of the burgeoning number of citizens fighting for the same space and natural resources. Almost every fifth human being on earth is in India, a nation with just less than seven percent of the global GDP.
In the background of this impending catastrophe, demands to initiate stringent measures to reverse the population explosion have begun in earnest. One Mao-seque strategy Sanjay Gandhi used during the Emegency was state-driven family planning, which was the central theme for policy making. Sanjay applied both coercive and persuasive tactics to tame the population spread. But excessive use of force and violent minority protests neutered his endeavor. The Congress under Indira and Sanjay lost the 1977 elections in North India. All political parties got the Muslim memo. For the next four decades, not one of them dared even to whisper 'population control'. They even changed the name of the erstwhile Ministry of Family Planning to Family Welfare.

The best of possibilities are laden with irony; one horrifying prospect of India beating China is not in Olympic medals, but in population data. The impending calamity of the population pralay has nudged awake the Indian establishment, intellectuals, policy makers and political leaders.

The narrative and discourse is expectedly along ideological lines. The Sangh Parivar is pushing the government to bring legislation that limits the number of children to just two per family. Hum Do, Hamare Do has been resurrected from the dustbin of history as a the new prescription to deal with the explosion.

Recently, Rakesh Sinha, an RSS ideologue and nominated BJP MP, moved a Private Member's Bill in Parliament mooting the two-child policy. Without naming a particular religion or community, Sinha hinted that certain sections are hijacking prosperity at the cost of others. His  statement read: "India has undergone tremendous transformation owing to its technological advancement, agricultural reforms, industrial innovations, and demographic transitions. However, the pace and the spatial distribution of the same is skewed, mostly concentrated among few prosperous states, urban elites and forward social groups over the years. These disparities also strikingly related to demographic composition and changing fertility behavior of India's population."

Subsequently, many BJP leaders argued for an urgent course correction in population control. But their real intention seems to be singling out Muslims to take the blame for the nation's current population proliferation. Repeated attempts of past sarkars to tackle the menace has been subverted and converted into Hindu vs the Muslim trope. Both politicians and supportive media are viewing India's multiplying masses through a communal lens. While the ruling party netas favor a two-child norm, Asadudin Owaisi, the solitary AIMIM Lok Sabha MP from Telangana, has assumed the mantle of an Islamic Ivanhoe. As the two extremes joust on one platform, it is the majority vs minority theme that is playing out; not the Backward vs. Progressive.

The majoritarian view is backed by the populist shibboleth that promoted perception about a disproportionate rise in India's Muslim population. The Sangh parivar laments that since 1951, while the absolute number of Hindus have risen a little over three times, Muslim figures shot up by over six times. A Pew Research Centre (PRC) study concluded that while the population of Hindus and other religious groups multiplied three times during 1951-2011, Muslim population rose five times. Paradoxically, the Muslim community is poorer in terms of education and wealth as compared to other Indians. Muslims claim that even the total fertility rate (TFR) of Muslim women has drastically plummeted from 4.4 children in 1992 to around 2.6 last year. However, this is higher than the TFR of 2.1 for Hindus and others.

Moreover, Muslims have grown at stratospheric rates in certain North and North Eastern states converting many districts from Hindu to Muslim majority ones. Such topographical concentration of Muslims is partially due to sociological reasons. More than half of them 20 crore Indian Muslims live in just six states -- UP, Kerala, West Bengal, Assam, J&K, and Bihar. Barring Kerala, the other states have registered a higher population growth than the rest of the country and have performed relatively poorer on the economic front.

But in India, economics doesn't decide the fate of ordinary people. Faith and fraternity do. According to UNDP data, India ranks 131 in the Human Development Index despite a record GDP growth rate. Its HDI of 0.645 is less than that of countries like Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Malaysia and Mauritius. The UN body ranks India 120 among 122 countries in the water quality index and 133 among 180 nations for water availability; it calculates HDI along the parameters of life expectancy, educational infrastructure and per capita income.

Ironically, even when India celebrates 75 years of Independence, identity politics and community entitlement dominate the national narrative. Every legislative exercise, judicial verdict, and even selection of candidates are influenced by these vectors. The High Table of the Indian thought process has been seized by the Low Priests of communal and community silos. Some of them perceive the one billion mobile phones in India and an equal number of Internet users as  strong indicators of inclusive identity. Even after India's seven and a half decolonized decades detailing demographic disaster, more water is available in five-star hotels and plush residential complexes occupied by less than five percent of the  population, than for the rest 85 percent. There are more schools in India without teachers and classrooms than with them. Over one fourth of villages lack drinking water, basic health centers, electricity and all-weather roads.

Unrestricted population growth is the millstone dragging the country down. While the majority of developed nations have reached an almost zero or negative population growth, Indians seem hell bent on retaining the biological imbalances in their headcount. The fault historically lies with the leadership since politicians stand to lose if the poor narrow the gap with the rich by reducing their tally.

Unfortunately, Muslims are plagued by a lack of progressive leadership which prioritizes welfare over warfare. They are apt to prefer the Pakistan and Afghanistan model instead of the Malaysia and Indonesia template. However, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has realised the importance of economics in tackling the Muslim population boom. He has instructed BJP workers to reach out to Pasmanda Muslims who comprise over 90 percent of the Islamic community. He seeks to make them stakeholders in India's growth story. With suspicion set in their mindset, Modi's outreach has perhaps come too late. India is yet to be free  of the numbers game of Cassandra's calculus. Restricting population growth would bring more prosperity to Muslims than to Hindus. Taking pawn politics out of the population policy is the best way forward for Atmanirbhar Bharat.  


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