Central security agencies have been asked to prepare “demographic and economic profiles” of residents of pockets with sizeable Muslim populations along the Pakistan border in Rajasthan, Union home ministry sources told The Telegraph on Monday.
The potentially controversial move, which can trigger charges of religious profiling of Muslims, comes ahead of the 2023 Assembly polls in Congress-ruled Rajasthan and mirrors a similar exercise conducted in Bengal ahead of the 2021 state elections.
“I hope it’s not part of a bigger strategy of polarising people along religious lines ahead of the Assembly polls,” a former joint director of the Intelligence Bureau told this newspaper.
Home ministry sources, however, termed it a “routine exercise” aimed at keeping an eye on radical elements, if any, and activities along the border.
“Such exercises are carried out routinely by the security agencies. The objective is to closely monitor the activities along the sensitive border and to ascertain the presence of radical elements,” a ministry official said.
“This is done strictly from a security point of view and one should not read too much into this.”
The official declined comment when asked whether such an exercise was being conducted also in Hindu-dominated pockets near the borders.
Security agencies had conducted a similar survey in Bengal in November 2020, ahead of the March-April Assembly elections, to ascertain the demographic pattern in areas with large concentrations of Muslims along the Bangladesh border.
That Bengal election was marked by a polarising campaign by the BJP, which focused on issues such as the National Register of Citizens, “infiltration” from Bangladesh, and Mamata Banerjee’s “appeasement politics”.
The former IB joint director said that if security were the objective behind such surveys, these should be done in all border areas irrespective of the religion of residents.
“Why single out one community for such an exercise? Such surveys are bound to create fear in the minds of the minorities at a time we see the country’s ruling party engaging in divisive politics,” he said.
In 2018, the Border Security Force had attracted charges of religious profiling after it said it had prepared a report highlighting an unexpected increase in the Muslim population near the Pakistan border in Jaisalmer, Rajasthan.
The report, prepared by the BSF’s intelligence wing and sent to the Union home ministry, also expressed concern at an increase in places of worship in those pockets.
It said that “radical elements” were present in these areas, and were suspected of trying to secure information from local people about military movements.