Justice Markandey Katju is a former Judge, Supreme Court of India, and former Chairman, Press Council of India. The views expressed are his own.
Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge has written to 21 ‘like-minded’ parties to join the concluding function of the Bharat Jodo Yatra in Srinagar on January 30.
In all probability, none will accept the invitation. Let me explain.
Anyone with even a little understanding of Indian politics knows that it runs largely on the basis of caste and religious vote banks.
After the Constitution was promulgated in 1950, for several decades, the Congress used to sweep the polls, not only in the parliamentary elections but also in most state elections.
For this, its formula was Dalit+Muslim+Hindu upper castes. In big states like UP and Bihar, Dalits are 20% of the population, Muslims are about 18%, and Hindu upper castes ( i.e. Brahmins, Rajputs, Banias, Kayasthas, Bhumihars, etc ) are about 17-18%. Altogether this alliance constituted about 55-56% of the total votes, which is a clearly winning formula. To win an election in India one needs a little over 30% of the total votes, and not 50%, since others are divided.
The Congress suffered a setback in the 1977 parliamentary elections, but that was because of attempts of forcible nasbandi (vasectomy) which was stupidly attempted by Sanjay Gandhi.
However, in the 1980 elections it bounced back to power on its traditional formula.
The Congress applecart was overturned by the demolition of the Babri Masjid in December 1992, and the formation by Dalits in UP of their own party, the Bahujan Samaj Party.
When the Babri Masjid was demolished, Muslims in UP and Bihar left Congress, and switched over to Samajwadi Party in UP, and Lalu Yadav’s RJD in Bihar. The Hindu upper castes also deserted Congress and joined the BJP.
Thus, the Congress was left with no vote bank.
Consequently, the Congress suffered heavily in the 2014 and 2019 elections, getting only 44 of the 545 seats in the Lok Sabha, and 52 seats in 2019.
With the 2024 parliamentary elections coming up, the Congress Party is desperate to get back the Muslim vote bank, and that is the real objective of the Bharat Jodo Yatra.
Why is the Muslim vote bank so important? That is because the Muslims constitute a big vote bank, particularly in north India. In UP and Bihar they are about 18%, in West Bengal about 28%, and in Assam about 35% of the total population.
As mentioned before, one does not need 50% of the total votes to win in an election. One can win if one gets a little over 30% of the votes. But one cannot win by getting Muslim votes alone, as that will be only be 18% in UP and Bihar. So to win one must get another chunk of about 15%.
The Samajwadi Party in UP (now led by Akhilesh Yadav) has about 16-17% OBC votes, and if this is coupled with the Muslim vote bank, it is a winning formula.
On the other hand, even if all Muslims vote for the Congress, the candidate will still lose, as she will get only 18% votes (since Congress has no vote bank of its own). Muslims therefore feel their vote will be wasted by voting for Congress.
Muslims generally do tactical voting. They find out who the strongest non-BJP candidate in a particular constituency is, and vote for them. If they are an SP candidate, they will vote for them. The same for a BSP candidate. Their only aim is to defeat the BJP.
Muslims were feeling oppressed after the BJP came to power in 2014 (due to various incidents, which need not be mentioned here), and the aim of the Bharat Jodo Yatra is to get Muslims back into the Congress fold.
However, the other political parties also woo the Muslim votes, and would not like to hand them over to Congress. For instance, the SP in UP is heavily dependant on Muslim votes, because on its own the SP gets only the Yadav votes (9% in UP) and a section of (but not the entire) OBC votes, the total coming to about 16-18%. So without Muslim votes the SP candidate cannot win.
Similar is the position in Bihar and several other states. The RJD in Bihar, the TMC in West Bengal, etc, cannot win without Muslim votes.
By attending the function in Srinagar on January 30, non-Congress Opposition parties risk handing over their Muslim vote bank to Congress. Why should they take this risk ? They are not fools. So they will not accept Kharge’s invitation.