Minutes after he joined the BJP, Rajya Sabha MP Naresh Agrawal Monday was at the centre of a storm after saying he joined the party because he was bypassed for “somebody who danced and worked in films”, referring to actor-turned-politician Jaya Bachchan. Agrawal drew sharp criticism from the BJP, including External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, who said his remarks were “improper and unacceptable”.
Agrawal quit the Samajwadi Party and formally joined the BJP in New Delhi after he lost out his Rajya Sabha re-nomination to Bachchan. Agrawal’s term as Rajya Sabha member ends on April 2.
Addressing a press conference in the presence of Union Minister Piyush Goyal at the BJP headquarters in New Delhi, Agrawal said: “Aur filmon mein kaam karnewali se meri haisiyat kar di gayi. Ye filmon mein dance karte, apna role karte, unke naam par hamara ticket kata gaya, mein ne isko bahut uchit nahin samjha. Kisi ne bhi isko uchit nahin samjha. (My status has been equated with women who work in films. For somebody who used to dance in films, act in films, I was denied a (Rajya Sabha) ticket. I did not find it appropriate. Nobody found it appropriate).”
While the BJP distanced itself from his remarks, Swaraj took to Twitter: “Shri Naresh Agrawal has joined Bhartiya Janata Party. He is welcome. However, his comments regarding Jaya Bachchanji are improper and unacceptable.”
BJP Spokesperson Sambit Patra, who was at the press conference, picked up the microphone immediately after Agrawal concluded his brief speech. “Before I request Piyush Goyalji to hand over the membership to him, I would like to clarify one thing from this platform: Whether it is a film star or just a party worker, everyone is respected. BJP respects everyone. We respect all,” he said.
According to Goyal, Patra had already discussed the issue with BJP leaders including party chief Amit Shah.
But the damage was done. Social media was abuzz with vehement criticism against Agrawal, who often courted controversy with his remarks inside and outside Parliament. BJP leaders admitted that the party was “deeply embarrassed” by his remarks and that it has taken the sheen off the party’s excitement over his shift to the BJP.
Goyal, in the press conference, had also explained how the BJP would benefit from the “clever leadership” of Agrawal.
According to Agrawal, he had joined the BJP because he was impressed by the party’s work and the leadership of both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Shah. “Whatever work the BJP gives me I will accept. We will do seva for the BJP. I promise to deliver fully,” he said. He claimed that the people of his community – Baniya (Vaishya) – supported the BJP and would appreciate his move.
Agrawal also said his son and SP MLA in UP, Nitin, would vote in favour of the BJP in the Rajya Sabha elections. This could derail the calculations of the SP-BSP-Congress for the RS polls in UP. In order to send two candidates, the combine needs 74 votes and the SP has 47 including Agrawal’s MLA son Nitin, the BSP has 19 and the Congress has seven. This makes 73. But even if the RLD’s single MLA votes for their candidate, the two candidates will find it hard to win if Nitin votes against them.
The BJP Monday fielded 11 candidates for the 10 Rajya Sabha seats in UP.