Lok Sabha Elections 2024: Why Viral Videos Giving BJP Jitters in Kaushambi

BJP nominee Vinod Sonkar can be seen abusing the Brahmin and Baniya castes in the purported videos.
From left to right: BJP candidate Vinod Sonkar and SP nominee Pushpendra Saroj
From left to right: BJP candidate Vinod Sonkar and SP nominee Pushpendra SarojFacebook

Lucknow: A viral video of Kaushambi MP Vinod Sonkar, who belongs to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has left the political temperature in the parliamentary constituency soaring. For the last few days, the only thing being discussed here is the purported video footage wherein the parliamentarian is seen making objectionable remarks against Brahmin and Bania communities.

Titled as ‘Sansad Ki Web Series’, clip after clip are surfacing on social media — showing him allegedly hurling abuses and talking about facilitating people purchase land worth Rs 50 crore in Prayagraj for Rs 25 crore.

However, Sonkar has termed all these alleged videos fake and part of a conspiracy against him.

Even before this, on a private TV channel, he had described the Brahmin community as “greedy”. A few days later, in one of his Facebook posts, he called the community “Manuwadi”.

The release of the controversial videos at a time when the Lok Sabha elections are being held may impact his prospects. It has left the politically crucial Brahmin community enraged.

Though his party, the BJP, is also continuously trying to do damage control, the efforts are seemingly unsuccessful in dousing down the palpable anger.

Professor Vivek Nirala, who is posted in Kaushambi, said, “The purported videos are not the only reasons behind resentment among people against Vinod Sonkar. The electorates are unhappy with him also because he failed to meet their expectation of development. After securing victory, he did not bother to return to the constituency. The viral videos have added salt to their wounds.”

Kunda MLA Raja Bhaiya did not attend Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s rally. It also shows that not only Brahmin and Baniya but also Thakur voters are angry with Sonkar. This resentment may cost dearly to both Sonkar and his party as the three castes are considered the core voters of the saffron brigade in Uttar Pradesh.

Did Viral Videos Spoil BJP’s Caste Equation?

Sonkar is seeking a third consecutive term in the Lok Sabha as a BJP candidate.

Rakesh Jain, a businessman and a resident of Sarai Akil, said, “I saw the videos on my son’s cell phone. The way he is abusing the Baniya community, this cannot be the language of any MP. The community will vote for a change this time.”

After several videos went viral, Sonkar, who is also in damage control mode, has now written a letter to the Kaushambi Superintendent of Police, urging him to register an FIR in this matter.

“In order to tarnish my image and cause political harm, some conspirators in collaboration with the Opposition are making fake videos viral on social media every day. It requires an investigation and legal action against whosoever is found guilty,” reads his letter to the police.

Kaushambi Superintendent of Police Brijesh Srivastava said an in depth probe is being conducted into the matter. “But we cannot reveal its details before June 4. The matter is being supervised by the Election Commission,” he said.

Interestingly, BJP’s Brahmin leader Shashibhushan alias Balam Dwivedi has opened a front against his party colleague Sonkar for some time. Going from village to village, Brahmins are appealing to the voters to vote against BJP.

Shashibhushan said, “Brahmins are against Sonkar because of his derogatory remarks against the community. It is us (the Brahmins) who have ensured his victory in the previous two elections. Brahmins and Bania are the core voters of the BJP; and if they don’t vote for the party, it will definitely suffer losses.”

Will Sonkar’s Apologies Work?

Sensing a threat to his prospects, Sonkar apologized with folded hands from the stage of a gathering at Osa, saying, “If in the last 10 years, my thoughts, deeds and words have caused pain to anyone, then today, bearing witness to the enlightened members of the meeting, I offer unconditional apologies. I seek your pardon. Those who have seen me closely know I am neither a casteist, nor a familyist or a corrupt person. I am only a developmentalist.”

However, locals are of the view that Sonkar will not get much benefit from apologizing in the Brahmin Sabha.

“The anger here is not against the party but against its candidate. The surfacing of the videos in a series has hurt the honour of the Brahmin and Bania communities. A large chunk of 50-60 percent of Brahmin and Bania voters have already distanced themselves from him. Only those who blindly support the party are in his favour. BJP MPs are facing opposition at many places,” said a local journalist, who also belongs to the Brahmin community.

Why is Kaushambi Seat Important for BJP?

This is the fourth Lok Sabha election in Kaushambi parliamentary constituency — which came into existence following delimitation in 2008. Reserved for the Scheduled Castes (SC), it is spread over Kaushambi and Pratapgarh districts.

Kaushambi district was carved out of Allahabad in April 1997.

This seat is politically important in many ways. This is the home district of Uttar Pradesh Deputy Chief Minister Keshav Prasad Maurya. Twenty-five-year-old Pushpendra Saroj of the Samajwadi Party (SP), one of the young candidates in the country, is taking on Sonkar, 54.

The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) has repeated its 2019 candidate Shubh Narayan Gautam. But if political pundits are to be believed, he is not in the contest.

It has been a sacred place for Buddhists, Jains, Hindus and Muslims for centuries. The district has a Buddhist monastery in Garhwa, a Jain temple in Pabhosa, Shitala Mata temple in Kada and the ashram of medieval poet Maluk Das in Kada.

Despite being the common confluence of so many pilgrimage sites, Kaushambi has been counted among the backward and neglected districts in Uttar Pradesh. It grabs headlines for wrong reasons such as unemployment, migration, drinking water crisis and the fight for supremacy in sand mining.

Most of the land in Kaushambi is cultivable. Farmers produce major crops like paddy and wheat.

Sonkar is also the chairman of the SC Commission. On the other hand, Pushpendra Saroj is the son of Inderjit Saroj — who was second-in-command in the Mayawati’s government in the state.

Therefore, Kaushambi seat has become a big attraction for Dalit politics.

Of the total five Assembly constituencies in Kaushambi Lok Sabha segment, three are general and two are reserved. The district has a huge population of Dalits and Other Backward Castes (OBCs).

In the 2022 Assembly elections, the SP had won all three seats of Kaushambi, Sirathu, Manjhanpur and Chail, while two seats of Pratapgarh district, Kunda and Babaganj, were won by strongman leader Raghuraj Pratap Singh alias Raja Bhaiya’s Jansatta Dal Loktantrik. However, Sirathu MLA Pallavi Patel and Chail legislature Pooja Pal have left the SP.

Interestingly, even after losing to SP’s Patel from Sirathu in the Assembly elections, BJP appointed Maurya as the deputy chief minister.

According to political experts, the attempt was aimed at appeasing the Maurya caste — which plays an important role among the non-Yadav OBC castes in the state.

A disciple of Ashok Sinhal, Deputy CM Maurya is said to have long association with the Bajrang Dal. He is a big name in non-Yadav OBC politics. He is a Hindutva hardliner leader. And therefore, he was made MLC and appointed as the deputy chief minister.

Two OBC castes, Kurmi and Pal, play a decisive role in the Lok Sabha elections here. And therefore, the SP had fielded Patel from Sirathu and Pal from Chail in the Assembly elections to attract voters from these two castes.

Raja Bhaiya has been the MLA from Kunda in Pratapgarh since 1993 and his close aide Vinod Kumar has been representing the adjacent Babaganj seat.

Raja Bhaiya is considered as the leader of Thakurs in Purvanchal. His interference in Kaushambi outside Pratapgarh increased when Kaushambi Lok Sabha was formed and Kunda and Babaganj Assembly segments in Pratapgarh district were included in it.

In the last Lok Sabha elections, Raja Bhaiya had fielded his close associate Shailendra Kumar Pasi from Jansatta Dal Loktantrik. However, he stood third by securing 1, 56, 406 votes.

It is said that Raja Bhaiya wanted the BJP to field Pasi from Kaushambi, but the saffron party expressed confidence in Sonkar. Kaushambi grabbed headlines when it was reported that Raja Bhaiya and Amit Shah held an hour-long meeting in Bengaluru.

However, Raja Bhaiya was not seen sharing the stage with Shah at a rally in Kunda a few days later.

Raja Bhaiya has influence in Kunda and Babaganj Assembly constituencies of Kaushambi Lok Sabha seat. It is said that voting takes place here on his instructions. Both the SP or the BJP keep visiting his doors to cross the electoral hurdle. This time, he has asked his followers that they can vote for the candidate of their choice.

It is being interpreted as he is neither openly with the SP nor with the BJP. It is possible it may be some strategy for any future elections. If the SP gets Raja Bhaiya's support, it will definitely become difficult for the BJP to contest Kaushambi.

Caste Equation

According to the estimated figures of political parties, the number of Dalit voters in the parliamentary segment stands somewhere near 7 lakh, of which Pasis are around 1.5 lakh and Khatik electorates are around 1 lakh.

The Samajwadi Party has fielded Pushpendra Saroj, son of former minister and Kaushambi MLA Inderjit Saroj, to woo the Pasi voters from here. At the same time, BJP has fielded two-time MP Vinod Sonkar to woo the Khatik voters.

Brahmin voters are approximately 1.4 lakh, Vaishya 1.2 lakh, Thakurs 1 lakh, Pals 1 lakh, Muslims 2.5 lakh, Patels 1.3 lakh, Mauryas 1.15 lakh, Lodhis 60,000 and Yadavs 1.4 lakh.

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