The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its star political performer, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, have fallen back on the old bogey of the Muslims overtaking the huge Hindu population demographically.

When this will happen, how it will be achieved is not spelt out. But in heated political campaigns that are never short of rhetoric but skimpy on reason and factual evidence, such pronouncements are bound to persuade some voters.

For the record the Hindus constitute about 966 million, Muslims are around 172 million, and there are another 28 million who are Christians. In percentage terms, the Hindus are 79.8%, Muslims 14.2% and Christians 2.3% of the total Indian population of 1.2 billion people.

According to a Pew Research Center report, “In 1992, the average Muslim woman had at least one more child than the average Hindu, Christian, Buddhist, Sikh or Jain. By 2015, fertility rates across all groups had fallen, with Muslims experiencing the most significant decline, (emphasis added) from an average of 4.4 children per woman in 1992 to an average of 2.6 in 2015.

“Hindu women had an average of 3.3 children in 1992, a figure that fell to 2.1 by 2015. As a result of these shifts, the fertility gap between Muslim and Hindu women in India shrank from 1.1 to 0.5 children.”

In geo-demographic terms, Hindus are a majority in 28 states out of the total of 35 states, while Muslims are a majority in the Kashmir valley and Lakshadweep islands. Christians are a majority in the small states of Nagaland, Mizoram, Meghalaya, and Arunachal Pradesh.

From a statistical perspective and the application of mind, it would be reasonable to conclude that the Hindu majority cannot face any demographic danger in the near or mid-term future.

Experts have shown, using mathematical models, that the Muslim minority can never overtake the Hindu majority, a forecast that they claim is valid for the next 1000 years. So, the political question is why does the right wing go on making such farcical claims?

In the Indian context the primary social and political ‘other’ is the Muslim as much as the Jew was for the Nazis in Germany. From a sociological perspective what the right wing does is that it creates a sense of paranoia among the population by constantly creating and re-creating a host of dangers that seemingly threaten peace, stability, and order.

The structuring logic of this discourse involves simple, ready-to-comprehend categorisations. This communication is aimed initially at the more vulnerable, less educated, and naive sections of the majority population.

The political communication is to ensure that the demographic minorities remain enmeshed in an atmosphere of violence both real and purported.

This strategy is designed to create a perpetual fear among the entrenched majority by portraying their demographic dominance as fragile and one that can change to their disadvantage if precautionary measures are not implemented.

The outcome of perpetual fear in sociological or psychological terms is varied and would require separate focus and dedicated research to evaluate its consequences on the individual in terms of dignity, ability, mobility, and aspirations.

However, one can argue that in concrete terms this assault of what is called ‘civic violence’ by some scholars, creates, or seeks to create a docile minority that would not claim rights (or would have great difficulty in doing so) that are constitutionally provided for but would be burdened with obligations.

One of the obligations that the minority would be forced to bear in perpetuity is the burden of ‘proof’. This includes, proof of loyalty, patriotism, and nationalism, a matter that would never be a requirement for the demographic and ‘ideological majority’.

The creation of perpetual fear and ‘civic violence’ undercuts the very basis of democratic politics and sequesters the progressive and democratic political groups severely and adversely. The right wing then takes over the idea of ‘we the people’ – an ill-defined and inchoate formation that purports to represent the entirety of ordinary citizens.

The people here are understood as who ‘they are not’ rather than ‘who they are’, thus setting up a binary whose demarcations are often porous and fuzzy but are made to stand out as solid constructions, non-permeable entities whose boundaries cannot be and should not be breached.

Thus, fear of a demographic takeover, even if it is far-fetched, is an effective right-wing tool to be used to create a supposedly factual or empirical argument. The argument is also premised on the assumption that the land belongs to a population who have been on it from time immemorial and therefore must have ‘natural rights’ over and above the rights guaranteed by a democratic Constitution.

Here the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its right-wing fellow travellers are on the path that Israel has successfully taken in denying the Palestinians their rights by invoking ancient scriptural sources that even though violative of all canons of human, political, cultural, and economic rights are supposed to be sacrosanct.

Israel has got away with this argument in the past and is successful in its genocidal present. One can presume the glee of the right wing all over the world, and the Indian right wing is no exception, as it witnesses the bombing of Gaza and the coming of the second Nakba.

Israel must be seen as the model state that has designed a democracy based on the subjugation of the Israeli Arabs and the Palestinians by constantly invoking the discourse of perpetual fear of the ‘other’ as a reason for its blatant acts of violence. Its parliamentary democracy on the other hand provides the fig leaf cover of political morality for Western consumption.

This is a politically attractive design for the BJP and its ideological allies as it moves from the fascination with Adolf Hitler’s SS (Schutzstaffel, or Protection Squads) and the Nazi state inculcated in the third decade of the 20th Century to the charms of Netanyahu’s vision of a Jewish state that tramples on the rights and lives of the Palestinians.

Any discourse of fear must also be accompanied by the figure of a person who is a saviour, a person who is not cowed down by aggressive enemies all around.

The BJP propaganda has over the decades successfully curated and created the figure of the saviour in Modi, a man fighting on many fronts and always victorious, a kind of Superman-in-saffron who centralises in his person all the qualities that the sages and ancient warriors had idealised.

Thus, even while Indians must live in perpetual fear, they are constantly assured of this charismatic political person whose smiling photographs keep on assuring the citizens from roadside hoardings and petrol pumps, from Covid vaccine certificates to railway stations and airports of his immense ability to assuage and soothe the fears that he has himself so craftily created.

It now remains to be seen whether the Lok Sabha voters once again turn to him and his party to “escape from the minorities swamping India by reproducing their kind”.

SURAJIT C MUKHOPADHYAY is Dean of Social Sciences, Sister Nivedita University, Kolkata. views expressed are the writer’s own.