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Will religious census stir up India’s political cauldron?

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Lucknow/Patna: Will the religious census released by the central government on Tuesday stir up India’s political cauldron? Reports from two states with a sizeable Muslim population suggest that it just could.

In Uttar Pradesh, the answer seemingly is in the affirmative, fear many, as the already polarized polity of India’s most politically crucial state is set to be harvested for electoral gains in the run-up to the state assembly elections due in early 2017.

While most political leaders in Uttar Pradesh — including the ones known for competing with their professional adversaries for quotes and sound bytes — have refused to come on record candidly, there is an overwhelming sense in the state that the “religious census will precipitate into a politics-based on religious lines”. The Muslim population in the state has grown to 19.8 percent in the last 14 years — an increase of 0.86 percent.

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“The census on religious lines had been held back for long and we all know its release has a political statement to it,” a Congress leader, not wishing to be named, told IANS.

He further pointed out that the fact that the Hindu population had slipped below 80 percent for the first time — juxtaposed with the marginal growth of Muslims — was “sure to be used by those who play politics of religion”.

State spokesman of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Vijay Bahadur Pathak, though not ready for a usual full-length statement, told IANS that the census had thrown up two things which needed to be immediately tackled and with all seriousness — jansankhya niyantran (population control) and jansankhya santulan (population balance).

“Anybody who wishes for development will think in similar fashion,” he elaborated.Eminent Sunni cleric Maulana Irfan Mian Farangi Mahali saw the release of the religious census as a “political stunt which will only end up widening the growing gap between two communities”.

“The real issues are much different like price rise and corruption but such data is sure to stoke the imagination of india-sikhs-2009-1-3-6-34-49

political parties,” he averred.Of a population of 19.98 crore in 2011, Uttar Pradesh now has 15.93 crore Hindus, 3.84 crore Muslims, 64.35 lakh Sikhs and 35.6 lakh Christians.

The districts with highest concentration of Muslims are Moradabad, Muzaffarnagar, Bijnore, Bareilly and Saharanpur. In the sensitive area of western UP, which has been a communal flash point over the past few years, in 17 districts the ratio of Hindus and Muslims is very wide and only Amroha and Rampur have more Muslims.

Senior journalist Rajiv Ranjan Jha said Uttar Pradesh was a sensitive state and one where politics revolved around caste and community. “There can be no doubt that the release of the census would trigger a political chain-reaction and harvest divisive results,” Jha told IANS.

A report from Patna said that taking Bihar’s sizeable Muslim population into consideration, not only are the RJD, the JD-U and Congress eyeing their support, but even the BJP is also trying to gain their support ahead of the assembly polls expected in October.

“No political party can ignore this sizeable population in view of the coming polls,” social activist Nayiar Fatmi told IANS.

Soroor Ahmad, a socio-political analyst, said the Muslim population is the highest in Bihar’s most backward pockets with high degree of poverty, illiteracy and migration.
Muslims in districts like Kishanganj, Purnea, Araria, Katihar and Supaul — known as the Seemanchal region as they share border with Nepal and Bangladesh — have been playing an important role in the polls.

Ahmad said that AIMIM president Asadullah Owaisi recently visited and addressed a public meeting in Kishanganj to explore possibilities of contesting the Bihar polls.

According to the 2011 census, Bihar’s population stood at 10.5 crore, of which 16.5 percent were Muslims.

 

(IANS)

Next Story

Internet Shutdown in Jammu and Kashmir- Longest Lockdown in a Democracy

Kashmir Internet Shutdown Takes Toll on Economy

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A Kashmir girl rides her bike past Indian security force personnel standing guard in front closed shops in a street in Srinagar. VOA

By Niala Mohammad, Yusuf Jameel

The internet shutdown in India’s Muslim-majority state of Jammu and Kashmir, which shows no signs of abating and has been the longest lockdown in a democracy, is taking a toll on the local economy and has led to the loss of thousands of jobs, according to rights groups and analysts.

Access Now, a global digital rights group that has been monitoring the situation in Kashmir, told VOA the “loss of connectivity in the valley” because of the shutdown has been “devastating to the local economy.”

“India’s internet shutdown in Kashmir is the longest ever in a democracy,” Raman Jit Singh Chima, Access Now’s senior international counsel and Asia Pacific policy director, told VOA.

“The Kashmir Chamber of Commerce has gone on record to speak of the immense economic cost that the internet shutdown has caused to the region, undermining the very economic goals that the Union Government promised it would drive through integrating the area into the wider Indian Union,” Chima added.

The lockdown has been in place since August, when New Delhi revoked Kashmir’s semiautonomous status and imposed a curfew on the region, including shutting down the internet.

The government defended its decision, saying it was a temporary measure to prevent possible terrorist attacks.

In a televised address to the nation in August, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, “The Kashmir decision will bring positive changes in the lives of the common man. It would mean the protection of Indian laws, industrialization, a boost in tourism and, therefore, more employment opportunities.”

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Indian security personnel guard outside the civil secretariat of the Union territory of Jammu and Kashmir during the annual reopening of the former state’s winter capital in Jammu, India. VOA

However, opposition parties in the country argue the opposite is happening.

“You have redefined the definition of normalcy, the J&K [Jammu and Kashmir] definition of normalcy now prevails in the rest of the country. This is uncaring and unthinking government,” Indian National Congress said on twitter this week in reference to what’s happening in Kashmir and the passage of a recent controversial law.

India’s parliament recently approved legislation that allows Hindus, Christians and other religious minorities who are living in India illegally to become citizens. The applicants must prove they were persecuted because of their religious beliefs in neighboring Bangladesh, Pakistan or Afghanistan.

However, the law does not apply to Muslims, which critics say is discriminatory.

Terrorism or protests? 

India’s government, led by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), defends its continued lockdown of internet connectivity in Kashmir as a deterrent to terrorist attacks.

While briefing the country’s lawmakers in November, Indian Home Minister Amit Shah, a close ally of Modi, said the internet would be restored as soon as local authorities felt it was appropriate.

“There are activities by our neighbors in the region, so we must keep security in mind. Whenever local authorities see fit, a decision will be taken to restore it [internet service],” Shah said, referring to Pakistan’s alleged interference in the region.

India has accused Pakistan’s intelligence agency of fomenting instability in Kashmir by supporting local militant groups, a charge Islamabad has denied.

Some analysts, however, say the internet lockdown is largely designed to prevent collective political protests.

“The stated reason [by the Indian government] was to contain possible terrorist attacks. In my view, it is largely designed to prevent collective political protests of any sort,” Sumit Ganguly, a professor of political science and the Tagore Chair in Indian Cultures and Civilization at Indiana University, told VOA.

Other analysts, such as Ashok Swain, a professor of peace and conflict studies at Uppsala University in Sweden who follows Indian politics, said the reasons behind the Indian government’s decision to shut down the internet in Kashmir are multifaceted.

“As I see [it], the real reason for [the] internet shutdown is not to restrict communication within Kashmir Valley, but to restrict Kashmir’s communication with [the] outside world,” Swain said, adding the government is more concerned about its global image as a democracy.

“By taking away the internet, [the] regime is also controlling the local media and its publication as the journalists are dependent on [the] regime’s mercy to communicate with [the] outside world and to contact with their offices,” Swain said.

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A masked boy in Kashmir throws stones at a police drone flying over Jamia Masjid mosque where Kashmiris are offering their first Friday prayers since Aug. 5 in Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir. VOA

Local economy 

Sheikh Ashiq, the president of the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry, told VOA that there has been a rapid rise in unemployment and a significant drop in Kashmir’s cottage industry.

“Our handicraft sector, that is solely based on the internet, is at a standstill. As a result, 50,000 artisans are jobless,” Ashiq said, adding that the export of its heritage industry handicrafts had declined by 62%.

Experts say the action against Kashmir has led to losses in tourism, health care, education and in the communications industries.

“The state economy has lost more $1.5 billion due to [the] lockdown. Several companies, whose operations were internet-dependent, have been closed,” Swain said.

The internet lockdown “has affected education, health service and even regular movement of the people, creating a severe humanitarian crisis. Business, particularly fruit trade and tourism, have [been] affected severely,” he added.

Local voices 

Young Kashmiri entrepreneurs like Muheet Mehraj see a bleak future in Kashmir, as the internet shutdown has placed a cloud over future employment prospects.

“If something doesn’t change for the better with time or our internet isn’t resumed, then I don’t understand what I am going to do in the future,” Mehraj told VOA.

Many businesspeople told VOA they have been forced to leave Kashmir to earn an income.

Syed Mujtaba, the owner of Kashmir Art Quest, shifted his business to Delhi because of the lockdown.

“Eventually, my family and my own logic told me it was best to leave Kashmir,” Mujtaba told VOA.

“Now I am in Delhi, you know … in search of new opportunity … and halfheartedly so, to be honest. My heart is still in Kashmir and will always remain in Kashmir,” he added.

The government, however, continues to paint a normal picture of the situation on the ground.

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“The situation in Kashmir does not need to be normalized. The situation in Kashmir is already normal,” Home Minister Shah told lawmakers last month.

Ashiq, of the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce, paints a different picture.

“We are handed a narrative of development. However, we do not see any form of development,” he said. (VOA)