The problem is, the numbers simply do not add up. Or project out. Religious data from Indian censuses often appears to be made public later than the rest of the data from them, and this fuels all kinds of fearful and jaundiced speculation about rising tides of non-Hindus. But when it is indeed made public, the conclusion is inescapable: the speculation is uninformed. Foolish and absurd, really.

But designed to be dangerous, nevertheless.

For example, take just the numbers of Hindus and Muslims in India. In 1991, the census counted 106.7 million Muslims and 690.1 million Hindus. Ten years later, those numbers had risen to 138.2 million and 827.6 million, respectively. Put another way, there was a 29.5% increase through that decade in the number of Muslims, corresponding to an annual growth rate of 2.62%. Hindu numbers increased by 19.9%, with an annual growth rate of 1.83%.

Certainly, the count of Muslims increased faster than that of Hindus through that decade. There are reasons for that that are worth exploring, but that is for another article. They do not change this analysis materially. Some pretty elementary arithmetic will show you that at those growth rates, it will be nearly 220 years before the Muslim population equals the Hindu population. 2233 AD, to be precise. Stop a moment to digest that number. Are our resident demagogues and pontificators really trying to get you perturbed about something that may come to pass in the year 2233?

Scratch that question. After all, they have tried hard to get us perturbed about a mosque that dated from the 1520s, nearly 500 years ago.

Still, a distant future is the least of it. If we actually maintain the growth rates of the 1990s mentioned above, consider that in the year 2233, there will be nearly 56 billion Indian Muslims and 56 billion Indian Hindus. Sixteen times the current population of the entire world crammed into this one country. If that does not seem impossibly bizarre, think of this: where you sit today, reading these words in relative peace, there will be about 100 people, evenly divided into Hindus and Muslims. Over 100 Indians for every single Indian today.

And we have not even taken into account the Christians, Jains, Sikhs, Parsis, Buddhists and others you can find in this country, and their contribution to the population.

In fact, if you crunch the numbers in the same way for Christians, also the target of scaremongers, they turn out even more ridiculous. In 1991, India had about 19 million Christians, a number that rose to 24 million in 2001. That is an annual growth rate of 2.36%. With those figures, India’s Christians will take about 670 years to catch up to their Hindu brethren’s count – and what will that count be? About 195 trillion (yes, trillion) Hindus and 195 trillion Christians. (We’re not even considering Muslims and the others here). About 60,000 times the world’s population crammed into this one country. About 400,000 Indians for each Indian alive today. Talk about imploding.

Such is the absurd logic that the scarifiers seem to believe – or do they really? – and would have us swallow. Such is the absurd spectre that your garden variety demagogue is working hard to put in your mind. And it is absurd above all because if we do keep up those growth rates for 220 or (some god forbid) 670 years, we will implode under ourselves long before we get there.

Which leads us to the more sensible conclusion about our population: those growth rates will slow and our population will eventually plateau and even decline. In fact, the signs of such slowing are already visible in the census data, if you are willing to look without being blinded by prejudice. We will probably plateau sometime later this century. This is no surprise: a declining population growth rate is, after all, one of the fruits of development.

And if that is what is really in our future, the Muslim and Christian populations will never catch up to the Hindu population. Far from it: what is a given is that Muslims will remain some distance below 20% of the Indian population, and Christians will remain under 2.5%. For every Indian Muslim, there are now and will remain about five Indian Hindus. For every Indian Christian, there are now and will remain about 35 Hindus.

Not much of a spectre, is it? So do not fall for it.