Rajya Sabha MP Naresh Agarwal joins BJP

New Delhi: Discontented Samajwadi Party leader Naresh Agarwal, who was once a vocal critic of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and often in news for his controversial remarks, on Monday joined the BJP after the Akhilesh Yadav-led SP favoured actor-turned-politician Jaya Bachchan for renomination to the Upper House of Parliament. Barely minutes after he was welcomed into the saffron fold by Union minister Piyush Goyal, the former SP leader faced a controversy by making a sexist comment against Ms Bachchan, by saying he was compared with a “filmon main kaam karne wali jo nacchtae gaatae hain (someone who works in films and sings and dances)”. Mr Agarwal had supported then chief minister Akhilesh Yadav during the Yadav family feud.

Mr Agarwal’s remarks against Ms Bachchan drew widespread criticism, including on the social media, and senior BJP leader and external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj said they were “improper and unacceptable”.

“Naresh Agarwal has joined the Bharatiya Janata Party. He is welcome. However, his comments regarding Jaya Bachhanji are improper and unacceptable,” Ms Swaraj tweeted. BJP spokesman Sambit Patra also tried to distance the party from Mr Agarwal’s remarks as soon as they were made, but in vain. Mr Agarwal joining the BJP has also upset a majority of the party’s Uttar Pradesh unit. Mr Agarwal asserted he had not joined the BJP for a Rajya Sabha berth or for any post.

However, with Mr Agarwal’s son Nitin, SP’s MLA from Hardoi, also joining the saffron fold, it could be bad news for BSP supremo Mayawati, who was hoping to get her party’s Rajya Sabha nominee win by getting the SP’s excess vote and support from the Congress and RLD, which adds up to just about the required votes. Of the 10 Rajya Sabha vacancies from the state, the BJP can easily win eight but has fielded 11 candidates to put pressure on the other parties. The state’s ruling party has a surplus of 28 votes and if gets the support of Independents and gains through possible cross-voting, its ninth candidate could also get elected. A Rajya Sabha candidate from UP needs 37 votes.

Mr Agarwal clarified he had joined the BJP not for the Rajya Sabha seat but because he thinks only if one is in a national party, he can do anything for society. He heaped praise on the Prime Minister, against whom he had made a casteist remark as recently as February this year. He said that while he still respects Mulayam Singh Yadav and Prof. Ram Gopal Yadav, “the current scenario in the SP, where it is doing a coalition with the Congress and sometimes with the BSP, is very sad”.

Mr Agarwal, who joined the SP from the Mayawati-led BSP in 2012, had supported Akhilesh Yadav during the bitter family feud in the Yadav clan and was considered close to the latter’s uncle, Prof. Ram Gopal Yadav. But the SP chief, it is learnt, favoured Ms Bachchan’s name after his father Mulayam Singh Yadav suggested her name. Mr Agarwal was also with the Congress during his early political days.

It could be recalled that the BJP had recently attacked Mr Agarwal over his remarks on Pakistan’s treatment of former Indian naval officer Kulbhushan Jadhav, who is on death row there, and quoting something from the past which had linked alcohol to Hindu gods while taking part in a debate on lynchings by cow vigilantes and the atrocities on minorities and dalits.

Reacting to Mr Agarwal joining the saffron fold, former SP leader Shahid Siddiqui tweeted: “Naresh Agarwal opposed and condemned me when I interviewed PM @narendramodi and was instrumental in throwing me out of the SP for committing this ‘crime’. Today he is a leader of Modiji’s party.”