Dehradun: The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in Uttarakhand has asked local authorities in the state to identify areas that are witnessing a spurt in the population of a certain “community”, leading to Opposition allegations that it is fuelling Hindu-Muslim tensions ahead of the state assembly elections in 2022.
The government order comes in the backdrop of complaints by members of the BJP over an alleged rise in the state’s Muslim population and illegal construction of mosques.
In an order issued on 24 September, the state home department directed district magistrates and SSPs to identify outsiders living in the state, and set up committees to resolve “communal issues” that have allegedly arisen with the “rise in population of a community”.
“DGP, district magistrates and SSPs have been directed to identify and prepare lists of persons from other states living in Uttarakhand and have criminal history. A complete record of their business activities and verified domicile residential areas must be prepared. A district-level committee should be constituted to suggest measures for resolving communal issues arising out of the rise in population of a community,” the order stated.
The Pushkar Singh Dhami government has also asked district authorities to track the “illegal sale and purchase of lands” in the areas allegedly witnessing the rise in population.
“It has to be seen that people should not sell their properties under pressure or in fear. Details of the foreigners living in these districts, who have obtained Indian voter and other identity cards, must be prepared and legal action be initiated,” noted the order.
A statement by the state government, on 24 September, also seemed to make a veiled reference to an alleged rise in Muslims’ population, and raised concerns about the possible migration of Hindus from the state.
“Some areas in Uttarakhand have witnessed demographic shifts due to excessive population growth. Its fallout is manifested as migration of members of a particular community from their homelands,” the statement, issued by the state home department, said. “Apart from this there is every possibility of rise in communal discord in these areas under present circumstances,” it added.
Reached for comment, Anand Bardhan, the CM’s additional chief secretary and head of the home department, told ThePrint, “DGP, district magistrates and all 13 SSPs have been informed about the concerns of the state government resulting from rising population in select areas as stated in the order. They have been asked to remain alert and take appropriate actions in accordance with the directions in the letter.”
“It’s a continuous process that requires enforcement agencies to be on alert mode and provide feedback to the government. Prior to this, the DGP was also asked to provide opinions on some specific complaints received by the chief minister,” he said, adding the government also wants to prevent “criminal elements taking refuge in Uttarakhand”.
‘Illegal mosques have been constructed’
Over the past few weeks, the state government has received complaints about an alleged rise in the Muslim population.
Darshan Bharti, a Right-wing activist who heads the NGO Uttarakhand Raksha Abhiyan, said “several locations in hill areas are witnessing a shift in demography. Illegal mosques have been constructed on government lands”.
Bharti had written a letter to CM Dhami on the issue on 23 July.
“I started a fast-unto-death against ‘love jihad’ and ‘land jihad’ witnessed in Uttarakhand and called it off after the chief minister promised to take steps. The Dhami government’s decision is a welcome step but it must be buttressed by appropriate action on the ground.”
Ajendra Ajay, a senior BJP leader and former media adviser to the Uttarakhand government, also wrote to the chief minister in August asking him to curb “illegal construction of mosques” in the state.
“There are several areas in Uttarakhand, especially in the hill areas, where there is demographic instability and illegal construction of mosques. Villages in Pithoragarh district along Nepal border have a few such examples,” Ajay told ThePrint.
“Recently, the district administration dismantled a mosque constructed illegally in Tehri. The government must enact a law to discourage bulk purchase of land by those coming from other states. This is important also as Uttarakhand shares two international borders,” he added.
Last month, the Dhami government posed a query to Director General of Police (DGP) Ashok Kumar, seeking his opinion on the purported demographic shift.
“There is a demand for a separate strict law restricting land purchase in hilly areas. It is being looked into after the home department’s directive to the DGP seeking his opinion was circulated to the divisions and officials concerned in the state police and administration,” a senior official from the state police’s intelligence wing told ThePrint.
The official, however, refused to name the areas that the state government is specifically looking into.
‘BJP government trying to communalise population issue’
In light of the order, the Congress has accused the BJP government of fueling Hindu-Muslim polarisation and targeting a particular community ahead of next year’s assembly elections.
Congress member Pritam Singh, also the leader of the opposition in the Uttarakhand assembly, said, “It’s a BJP government ploy to create Hindu-Muslim polarisation during elections. Dhami government says outsiders coming to Uttarakhand have led to demographic shift with majority community rendered minority in some parts of Uttarakhand.
“The government must say who are these outsiders and where these demographic changes have occurred. Are they foreign nationals? If so, then legal action must be taken against them,” he added.
“The BJP government is targeting a community when elections are around the corner and they have nothing to show the people as performance. What took them more then four and a half years to raise the issue if that was so grave?”
On 24 September, former CM Harish Rawat had also objected to the state government’s move and said it was an attempt to target a specific community.
“No one will object if the government takes appropriate steps for population control but it’s a serious matter if such efforts are made to target a community and specific areas for political gains and with the help of state administration,” said Rawat.
(Edited by Rachel John)
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