With Uttar Pradesh assembly elections a little more than six months away, chief minister Yogi Adityanath has set the proverbial cat among the pigeons by putting out a draft population control bill.
It is clearly a strategic move that the BJP expect will not only help the party in UP polls, affirming its ideological agenda but also trigger a larger debate on population control in the country. Assam, which already has a two-child norm for the government officials, is mulling a similar overarching population policy as in UP. Another BJP-run state Karnataka has also expressed its intention to follow suit.
Carrying on the momentum, two BJP members have already been cleared to present private members’ bills on population control and uniform civil code in the upcoming monsoon session of Parliament. Lok Sabha MP from UP Ravi Kishan is scheduled to introduce the Bill on population control on July 24, and Rajya Sabha MP from Rajasthan Kirori Lal Meena will introduce the private members' bills on uniform civil code the same day. Both the issues are close to RSS’ heart and it has been nudging the BJP to act on them. While the Ram temple in Ayodhya is on track and Article 370 has been abrogated, the implementation of a uniform civil code in the country is the next big thing on RSS’ agenda.
However, the BJP’s ideological mentor has still not been able to come out with a population policy that will reconcile its fears regarding a Muslim demographic takeover to the declining Hindu population. The RSS advocates a pan-India law to check the “imbalance” in total fertility rates (TFR) but its implementation to remove the mismatch among communities and ensure “demographic balance” is a challenge.
Though the Yogi government claims that the Bill is not polarising in nature since it does not single out any community, many among the opposition leaders have questioned its timing. Even ally Nitish Kumar, chief minister of Bihar, has said that coercive measures don’t seem to work in checking population growth whereas steps like educating women do.
Incidentally, it is not the first time that the issue of population control has been raised before UP polls. In the run-up to the last polls, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat in August 2016, had called upon Hindus to have more children. While addressing a gathering of some 2,000 couples at a function organised by the Sangh’s Kutumb Prabodhan in Agra, the RSS supremo had given a PowerPoint presentation, underlining that while Hindus have a fertility rate of 2.1 per cent, the “other community” stands at more than eight per cent.
“If this remains the situation, one should forget about their existence in one’s own country by 2025,” he said,
Earlier too, the RSS has propagated that Hindus should reproduce more. Then RSS joint secretary Dattatreya Hosabale (now the number two in the Sangh), after RSS’ national executive in Kochi in October 2013, had said that the Hindus should have larger families to check the democratic shift that is happening in favour of minorities in some parts of the country.
However, it is not possible to bring in a law that sets different rules for different communities. The UP draft bill states that couples having more than two children in the state will be debarred from contesting polls to the local bodies, applying for government jobs or receiving any kind of subsidy. In fact, it incentivises those who would follow a one-child norm. The document states, it is necessary to control and stabilise the population of the state for the promotion of sustainable development with more equitable distribution.
UP, with a population of 22 crores, is the most populous state of the country, and chief minister Adityanath has said that with limited resources and employment opportunities, population control is the only way forward.
The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), another important organisation of the Sangh Parivar, believes that the Adityanath government has gone beyond the objectives of demographic balance in incentivizing those who follow the one-child policy. In a detailed statement, it said that the one-child norm would create an imbalance between different communities because they are known to respond differently to the incentives and disincentives related to family planning.
“The TFR of Hindus has declined far below the replacement rate of 2.1, but that of Muslims is 3.16 in Assam and 2.33 in Kerala. In these states, one of the communities has thus entered the contraction phase while the other is still expanding. UP should avoid getting into that situation,” the VHP statement said. The policy needs to be tailored to redress the imbalance otherwise one-child policy may end up doing the opposite, it added.