Newsmaker: Meet Naresh Agarwal, Bear Grylls of Uttar Pradesh politics!

Naresh Agarwal
One would vividly remember adventure series Man vs Wild on Discovery channel featuring survival expert and Irishman Bear Grylls, who displayed incredible physical and mental toughness to battle hostile situations in the wilderness and survive.

In the context of Uttar Pradesh, the hotbed of Indian political landscape, Naresh Agarwal has demonstrated survival instincts a la Grylls to overcome adverse situations and survive by party-hopping and aligning with the party in power.

In his almost three decades of chequered political career, Agarwal has been associated with all major political parties in UP, including the Congress, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Samajwadi Party (SP). Now, he has joined Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) after SP president Akhilesh Yadav chose actor-turned-politician Jaya Bachchan for the lone Rajya Sabha nomination over senior party leaders, including Agarwal.

Realising that the SP’s chips had been down and it would be rather difficult for him to ensure legislative role both for himself and his son Nitin in the party, Agarwal made a quick decision to don the saffron robe.

He had started the political journey in 1980 as a Congress legislator from his hometown Hardoi. However, he was denied the party ticket in 1985. When he was again ignored by the Congress in 1989, he fought the poll as a rebel and won. He was taken back in the party, and later made the UP Congress Committee general secretary, apart from the deputy leader of the legislature party.

In 1996, the state witnessed a hung Assembly. Later, when the BJP-BSP coalition snapped, spurring political instability, 22 Congress legislators led by Agarwal formed a splinter group named Loktantrik Congress. The faction was later recognised as a separate entity by the Speaker and he served as the power minister in the Kalyan Singh government.

Agarwal was also instrumental in putting the then Congress leader Jagdambika Pal on the UP chief minister’s seat for a day in 1998 during the spell of political instability by announcing support of the Loktantrik Congress. However, he withdrew the support a day later, further fortifying his image of a political sly.

In 2001, he was dismissed from the state cabinet by the then CM Rajnath Singh when he issued anti-government statements in Haridwar. 

Thereafter, Agarwal joined Mulayam Singh Yadav-led SP and became an MLA. He was made the state tourism and transport minister. In 2007, he was elected to the Vidhan Sabha for the seventh time.

A year before the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, Agarwal joined the BSP. Agrawal’s son Nitin fought from his seat and became a BSP legislator. The BSP sent Agarwal to the Rajya Sabha, marking his entry in Parliament.

Agarwal re-joined the SP along with his son in 2011. In 2012, the party elected him to Rajya Sabha, while his son won the Hardoi Assembly poll and was made a minister in the Akhilesh government.

He is a motor mouth and known to court controversy at the drop of hat. He had made unsavoury remarks against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other political figures. Even at the function to mark his entry in the BJP on March 12, he made a misogynist comment, slamming the SP for choosing an “entertainer” over him for the Rajya Sabha. He was forced to retract his words in the face of  a backlash both from BJP leaders and others.

Since the BJP for the Upper House had already nominated Ashok Bajpai, who hails from Hardoi, the latter is said to be eyeing the 2019 Lok Sabha poll. With the BJP firmly in power both at the Centre and UP, Agarwal appears to be playing his cards well and survive for another day.

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