Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma touched a nerve today saying "social menaces" like land encroachment can be solved if the immigrant Muslims follow a family planning norms and control their population. "If the population explosion continues, one day even the Kamakhya temple land will be encroached upon. Even my house will be (encroached upon)," he added, referring to the state's famous pilgrim Centre.
The Chief Minister, who has just completed a month in office, made the remark at a press conference in Guwahati while answering a question on a series of anti-encroachment drives, where the people displaced belong to the immigrant Muslim community.
The Bengali-speaking Muslims of central and lower Assam are considered immigrant Muslims from Bangladesh. In the last assembly polls, the BJP's narrative has been to protect the indigenous communities of Assam against them.
Immigrant Muslims comprise around 31 per cent of Assam's 3.12 crore population and are a deciding factor in as many as 35 of the 126 assembly seats.
"We have already enacted a population policy in the last assembly session. But we particularly want to work with the minority Muslim community to reduce the population burden," Mr Sarma said.
Population explosion, he said, was the key to social evils like poverty and encroachment.
Encroachment cannot be allowed on forest, temple and satra lands belonging to Vaishnavite monasteries, the Chief Minister said. "But I understand that it is due to a high growth of population. I understand the pressure on the other side. Where will the people stay?" Mr Sarma said.
"If we can control the population, we can solve several social problems… if the immigrant Muslims can adopt a decent family planning norms -- this is my appeal to them," he said, adding that he would like to work on this issue with all the stakeholders, including organizations like Badruddin Ajmal's party AIUDF and the All Assam Minority Students' Union or AAMSU.
"The Chief Minister's statement is politically motivated and targets one community," said Animul Islam, the AIUDF General secretary and MLA from Mancachar constituency.
"When the state government framed the population policy, we never opposed it. But it is unfortunate that the Chief Minister is not seeing the main reason why the population is more among the people he is refering to at migrant Muslims. It is largely due to poverty and illiteracy and he did not spell out his plan in terms of poverty and illiteracy," he told NDTV.
Earlier, several BJP leaders have remarked on the subject, triggering huge controversy.
In January 2018, Banwari Lal Singhal, BJP MLA from Rajasthan, said Muslims were bearing more children with an aim to "outnumber Hindus and take control of the country by 2030".
"Muslims were giving birth to 12-14 children... while Hindus restrict the number to one or two," he said in a Facebook post which he had refused to take down.
In July that year, former BJP MP from Uttar Pradesh Hari Om Pandey, in a hate speech, said cases of rape and murder are on the rise in the country because of the growing Muslim population.
"If one looks closely, there is a rapid increase in the percentage of Muslims since the time of independence," he had said.