In what seems to be a race to create more uproar in the country by uttering controversial statements, Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi took a dig at Muslims, saying that illiteracy rates in the community are blamed for the high population growth in his state.
Incidentally, his comment was picked within minutes by the public, who condemned his rabble-rousing statement to be racial.
Speaking to CNN IBN commentator Karan Thapar on the issue of high population growth in Assam on, Gogoi said, "It is because of low literacy...Illiteracy among the Muslims. Most of them are illiterate. Every family...six, seven, eight, nine, ten...It is because of illiteracy".
When asked whether he is suggesting that the illiterate breed more children, he responded with full acknowledgement. "Yes, 100 per cent I believe," he said, according to Press Trust of India.
Gogoi's remark against the Muslim community drew intense criticism, with the National Commission for Minorities (NCM) Chairman Wajahat Habibullah saying that the chief minister is trying to divert attention from more serious matters of the state.
"It's possible to say that domestic population has increased but to ascribe that to illiteracy is stretching it a little. The Muslim community has benefited by education but it hasn't risen to the same level in comparison to other communities, Habibullah said to CNN IBN.
"A lot has to be done to promote literacy... The question is to implement the government's programme. Birth rate is higher among Muslims, but whether illiteracy can be a reason is a matter which I would question," he added.
According to the 2001 census, over eight million people in Assam follow Islam, making it the second largest population in the state after Hindus. The community, which mostly constituted immigrants from Bangladesh, was engaged in intense clashes with the indigenous Bodo community over the decades.
Communal tensions worsened in July when nearly 100 people were killed, prompting the government to impose shoot-at-sight orders and indefinite curfews in several riot-torn areas.