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Is India targeting Muslims, with population growth committee as ‘camouflage’?

India is set to establish a high-powered committee to address its rapid population growth and demographic changes, its interim budget showed, sparking concerns that officials are targeting Muslims.

The team will study population changes in various regions, particularly in the absence of credible census data, but critics fear the move is just a thinly veiled bid to control religious demographics.

“The committee will be mandated to make recommendations for addressing these challenges comprehensively in relation to the goal of Viksit Bharat [Developed India],” Finance Minister Nirmala Sitaraman said in her budget speech on February 1.

A senior government official said at a post-budget press conference that details of the committee were yet to be finalised.

“Wait for the terms of reference to come out, and then you will know the exact details. The overall approach is that it is a huge opportunity, but there are challenges. Both have to be taken note of,” said Ajay Seth, secretary of the department of economic affairs.

“I seriously doubt whether they will only study the rise in the Muslim population. Because that’ll give away their game. They know very well how to camouflage their game,” said Dr Santosh Mehrotra, a development economist.

While experts are concerned about age-related demographic changes in India, they fear the government is keener to address the religious demography of the Hindu-majority country.

“I’m convinced that they’re worried that the demographic dividend is slipping away – jobs are not growing, and the population is growing, so the population growth rate must be a problem; that is probably the logic of this effort. However, this is a misunderstanding of the nature of the job problem,” said Mehrotra.

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