The government unveiled the census data on religious communities – that had been ready for more than a year -- months before Bihar holds a crucial assembly election in which Muslims can influence the outcome in 50 of 243 assembly constituencies.
A polarisation of votes could work to the advantage of the BJP which is looking to maintain the momentum of its Lok Sabha win in Bihar and take on the grand alliance between the Rashtriya Janata Dal, Janata Dal (United) and Congress.
According to a home ministry statement, the share of Muslims in the total population of 121.09 crore increased by 0.8 percentage points to 14.2% while the proportion of Hindus declined by 0.7 percentage points to 79.8%, Sikhs by 0.2 percentage point to 1.7% and Buddhists by 0.1 percentage point to 0.7% during 2001-2011.
There was no significant change in the proportion of Christians at 2.3% and Jains at 0.4%.
Earlier, the government used to provide religion-wise break-up of population data. The practice was discontinued in 2011 because of a controversy that followed the 2001 Census, which showed a relatively high growth of Muslim population primarily on account of the inclusion of Jammu and Kashmir. The comparison was skewed because the militancy-hit state was not covered in the headcount for 1991.
Data released on Tuesday show Assam and West Bengal witnessed the sharpest increase in the Muslim population during the 2001-2011 decade, a change that is being linked to the illegal migration from Bangladesh.
However, the growth rate of Muslims declined to 24.6% in 2001-2011 from by about 29% in the previous decade. Muslims had historically witnessed a higher growth rate than other major communities but this rate has been on the decline in recent decades.
The growth rate of population of the different religious communities in the same period was: 16.8% for Hindus; 24.6% for Muslims; 15.5% for Christians; 8.4% for Sikhs; 6.1% for Buddhists and 5.4% for Jains.