Will Raja Bhaiya’s Neutrality Sway Voters As Kaushambi Goes To Polls In The Fifth Phase?

Amidst the high-stakes battle in Uttar Pradesh's Kaushambi, the decision of the influential Raja Bhaiya to refrain from backing any side has added an intriguing dimension to the fierce contest between the BJP's incumbent MP and the Samajwadi Party's young Dalit challenger.

(Photo by Subhankar Chakraborty/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)
Raghuraj Pratap Singh (Raja Bhaiya) (Photo by Subhankar Chakraborty/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

The electoral battleground is heating up in Uttar Pradesh’s Kaushambi as Samajwadi Party debutante Pushpendra Saroj takes on BJP’s incumbent Vinod Sonkar.

According to the locals, a fierce competition is being witnessed between the saffron party’s Hindutva ideology and the Samajwadi Party’s new vision for development. While the BJP leader is eyeing a third term as Kaushambi MP, 25-year-old Saroj is in the running to become India’s youngest MP by winning the reserved seat this election. 

The young Dalit candidate, who returned to India in 2021 after completing his undergraduate degree in London, joined the Samajwadi Party shortly after. He is being seen as one of the emerging Dalit leaders in the state.

“If I talk about the nation, then unemployment and rising prices are key electoral issues affecting every citizen. And in Kaushambi a different fight is being observed for respect and dignity. The way the current MP has disrespected people, people are fighting against it. Along with that, people’s personal issues have not been heard. Electricity, water and road issues have persisted and the youth is roaming unemployed and inflation is affecting people, these are some issues of this region,” SP candidate Pushpendra Saroj said in a conversation with Outlook.

The BJP MP Vinod Sonkar, on the other hand, has told reporters that he is optimistic he will defeat Pushpendra Saroj just like he had defeated his father, Indrajit Saroj, last time. In 2019, political heavyweight and five-time MLA Indrajit Saroj, who is currently the Manjhanpur MLA, lost by a margin of around 38,000 votes. This time, his son is contesting in his place.

The reserved seat of Kaushambi came into existence in 2008 when the electoral boundaries were redrawn owing to the delimitation exercise. The Lok Sabha constituency now includes five legislative assembly seats of Babaganj, Kunda, Sirathu, Manjhanpur and Chail.

The Manjhanpur legislative constituency is dominated by dalits and specifically Pasi dalits to which the SP candidate belongs, while the other four regions are dominated by the OBC community.

Although the Bharatiya Janata Party leader Vinod Sonkar has been winning the last two terms, the BJP has no representation in any of the five seats. While Sirathu, Manjhanpur and Chail are held by the Samajwadi Party, Babaganj and Kunda come under the Jansatta Dal (Loktantrik) led by seven-time MLA Raja Bhaiya.

The elections have taken an interesting turn with Jansatta Dal (L) leader Raghuraj Pratap Singh, popularly known as Raja Bhaiya, who wields significant influence in the Babaganj and Kunda region saying he has told his voters he will remain neutral this election season and they can vote for whoever they please. He has also not fielded any candidates from the party.

“If we ask our supporters to vote for anyone then it is our moral obligation to ensure the candidate when elected stands up for the people during their difficult times. We weren’t able to take that guarantee,” Raja Bhaiya said in a video interview with Aaj Tak.

Candidates and party workers from both BJP and Samajwadi Party have visited and held meetings with Raja Bhaiya to seek his support in the ongoing elections but he has declined support to any party. A local resident of Kaushambi told Outlook, “Kaushambi Lok Sabha seat par Raja Bhaiya jo chahte hai wahi hota hai.” 

In a media interview, Indrajit Saroj told reporters although Raja Bhaiya has not allied with either side, his supporters have chosen his son Pushpendra Saroj as the worthy candidate and are supporting him this time. “The kind of support he is getting from all castes and classes is something even I have not received during my political career,” he said.

As Kaushambi gears up to vote in the fifth phase on May 20, troubles for Vinod Sonkar seem to have intensified with videos of him allegedly abusing the Brahmin and Baniya communities emerging on social media. Adding to this the growing anti-incumbency sentiment on the ground, due to his lack of visits to electorates and overall development, his support seems to be waning. Sonkar has claimed the videos to be fake and has lodged an FIR for the same.