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Is BJP rewarding Samajwadi defector Naresh Agrawal for his cloaked loyalty?

He has been known on several issues to take the sting out the Opposition's attack on the govt even while he was an SP member

Senior Samajwadi Party leader and Rajya Sabha MP Naresh Agarwal being welcomed by Union Minister Piyush Goyal as he joins BJP
Senior Samajwadi Party leader and Rajya Sabha MP Naresh Agarwal being welcomed by Union Minister Piyush Goyal as he joins BJP at party headquarters in New Delhi. Photo: PTI

Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) supporters on the social media were left nonplussed when the party inducted Samajwadi Party leader Naresh Agrawal into its fold on Monday afternoon.

While External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj publicly disapproved Agarwal’s remarks on SP Rajya Sabha member Jaya Bachchan, several other BJP leaders said they were intrigued at their top leadership’s decision.

Agrawal has mocked Hindu gods in the recent past, and has also called Kulbhushan Jadhav, currently in Pakistani custody on charges of spying, a terrorist.

In 2004, D P Yadav had joined the BJP, but had to quit within days because of protests from within. Bihar politician Sabir Ali had faced a similar ignominy some years back. But Agarwal, it would seem, is being judged by a different yardstick. 

According to BJP sources, before formally joining the BJP, Railway Minister Piyush Goyal got Agarwal to meet party chief Amit Shah in Parliament on Monday afternoon.

Is there a method to Shah’s strategy?

Agarwal hails from the bania community. He has some influence in Uttar Pradesh’s Bhadohi district, but isn’t a mass leader. Agarwal’s son is an SP legislator. 

Elections are due for 58 Rajya Sabha seats, including 10 from Uttar Pradesh. The BJP is set to win eight, and SP’s Jaya Bachchan should also comfortably win hers.

However, for the tenth seat, the SP, the Congress and Bahujan Samaj Party need to come join forces to ensure BSP’s Bhimrao Ambedkar wins.

The BJP hopes Agarwal can engineer cross voting from the SP for the BJP candidate. He has already promised the saffron party his son’s vote. There are those within the BJP who believe such a move could be portrayed as anti-Dalit, but party chief Shah is known to put up a strong fight even in hopeless situations.

But why did BJP have to induct Agrawal, who has little mass base, in order to secure an unlikely Rajya Sabha seat?

The reason, according to some of Agarwal's colleagues in the Rajya Sabha, is stranger. The former Samajwadi member, they say, has been rewarded for the loyalty he has shown to the BJP’s cause while being in the SP.

Over the past couple of years, Opposition leaders have been intrigued when Agarwal, in the midst of an engrossing debate on a burning issue in which the Opposition had the government on the mat, would say something that would derail the Opposition narrative.

On July 19, 2017, during the monsoon session of Parliament, several Opposition speakers led by Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad participated in a short discussion on the situation arising out of a reported nationwide increase in cases of lynching and atrocities on minorities and Dalits.

All speakers has appealed to the Centre to ensure that statements that stoke such incidents were not made from those affiliated with the Sangh Parivar. The government was clearly on the defensive. In his speech, however, Agrawal likened Hindu gods to brands of liquor. Not only did the Opposition's attack lose its sting, but much of the coverage in the media focussed on Agrawal's blasphemous comments, and not on the lynching of Muslims and Dalits.

The insult to Hindu gods agitated the treasury benches, and Opposition members were frustrated at Agrawal’s remarks. Leader of the House Arun Jaitley said Agrawal was liable for prosecution if he had made the comments outside the House. Eventually, Agrawal apologised and his comments were expunged.

On December 22, during the winter session, as Trinamool Congress member Derek O’Brien complained that protests by Opposition members inside the well of the House were blacked out on Rajya Sabha TV, Agrawal raised the issue of increasing salaries and allowances of Members of Parliament. The Opposition's attack got punctured.

On December 27, Agrawal described Kulbhushan Jadhav a terrorist, earning him much criticism from the BJP and embarrassing the Opposition, which had argued that the government needed to do more to secure Jadhav's release.