Nitin Agarwal, who was elected as a legislator on the Samajwadi Party ticket but then cozied up to the ruling BJP, is all set to be the deputy speaker of the Uttar Pradesh Assembly with the support of the saffron party.
A miffed Samajwadi Party, which has fielded Narendra Verma as its official candidate for the contest that is taking place just months ahead of the 2022 assembly polls, hit out at the BJP, accusing it of trying to sabotage democracy, and asserted that the post should traditionally go to the opposition party.
After the election on Monday, Uttar Pradesh will get its first Deputy Speaker of the Legislative Assembly after a gap of over 14 years. In the 2017 assembly polls, the BJP had won 304 seats in the 403-member UP Legislative Assembly and its majority in the House will ensure Agarwal's victory.
According to sources, Samajwadi Party had moved the Speaker of UP Legislative Assembly seeking disqualification of Nitin Agarwal 5-6 months and around 15-20 days back the Speaker rejected the petition.
Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and UP BJP chief Swatantra Dev Singh were present during the filing of nomination on Sunday by Nitin Agarwal, whose father Naresh Agarawal had quit the SP and joined the BJP in 2018.
"The BJP has followed all parliamentary traditions. The post is (generally) reserved for the principal opposition party. You (SP) were not able to give a candidate, and when a candidate came, it was Nitin Agarwal, and we are supporting him. We have come here to give respect to the parliamentary traditions," Adityanath later told reporters.
Nitin Agarwal wore a blue 'patka' bearing the 'Jai Shri Ram' slogan at the time of filing his nomination. His father and former UP minister Naresh Agarwal was also present.
"I have submitted four sets of nomination papers. Those who have proposed my name are Congress MLA from Harchandpur Rakesh Pratap Singh, BSP MLA from Purva Anil Singh, Cabinet ministers Suresh Khanna, Swami Prasad Maurya and Ashutosh Tandon, minister Chhatrapal Singh, and MLA Rajpal Verma," Nitin Agarwal told PTI.
After filing the nomination papers, the MLA told PTI that he has not formally joined the BJP. Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav attacked the BJP over Agarwal's nomination.
"Which party does the candidate put up by the BJP belong to? What can be expected of a government which inaugurates already inaugurated projects and lays the foundation stone of the projects for which the foundation stone has already been laid?" he asked.
SP nominee Narendra Verma also accused the BJP of "twisting" parliamentary traditions and said the post should go to the opposition. "I am the SP candidate and the post of deputy speaker as per traditions goes to the principal opposition party. Hence, it should go to us.
"He (Nitin) is my younger brother. He won on a Samajwadi Party ticket and after winning the polls, he started working against the SP... the BJP is breaking and twisting the parliamentary traditions. We do not expect anything from the ruling party," he said.
Verma, a Kurmi leader, was accompanied by Leader of Opposition in UP Assembly Ram Gobind Chaudhary and rebel BSP MLAs during the filing of nominations at the UP Vidhan Bhavan on Sunday.
Leader of Opposition in UP Assembly Ram Gobind Chaudhary claimed that the Samajwadi Party wanted a Dalit or a backward as the deputy speaker, "but the BJP did not want so, and hence no election was held in four-and-half years ".
"No meeting was held in this regard, but with Assembly elections approaching, the BJP suddenly made SP MLA Nitin Agarwal its candidate after four and half years," he said.
The last deputy speaker of the UP Legislative Assembly was the BJP's Rajesh Agarwal, who was elected unopposed in 2004. Rajesh Agarwal told PTI that the role of the Deputy Speaker is to conduct the proceedings of the House in the absence of the Speaker.
A three-time SP MLA from Hardoi, Nitin Agarwal said if elected as the deputy speaker of the assembly, he will discharge his duties in accordance with the Constitution. "The government's priority is that everything should be transparent. My priority as a deputy speaker will be to ensure the same," he said.
UP's law minister Brajesh Pathak, when asked about the reasons for the election, said it is was the demand of the MLAs. Principal Secretary of UP Vidhan Sabha Pradeep Dubey said only the two candidates have filed nomination papers and the voting will take place on Monday.
Naresh Agarwal took a swipe at the SP and said that it will follow the "tradition of witnessing defeats". "The preceding governments should have appointed deputy speakers, but they did not do so, as they did not believe in this Constitutional post. I must thank the chief minister and the government that they believe in the Constitution and this Constitutional post," he said after his son filed the nomination.
On the timing of the election, he said, "Why should there be any question mark on the intention of the state government? Also, there is no rule that the deputy speaker should be elected along with the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly. Whenever the Speaker feels it appropriate, the deputy speaker can be elected."
Dismissing suggestions that the BJP government, with this move, was trying to reach out to a community which was unhappy with the party, Agarwal said, "The government has done a lot for all the sections of the society. This government does not believe in appeasement, and represents everybody, and does not do appeasement politics."
Reacting to the opposition's criticism, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Suresh Khanna said Nitin Agarwal became an MLA on an SP ticket, and even today is an SP MLA. "All the parliamentary traditions were followed. And, if there are two candidates in the fray, there will be voting," he said.
On allegations by the opposition that the BJP is trying to sabotage democracy, Khanna said, "These allegations are being levelled for a long time, and there is no strength in them. What is sabotage? I don't think so. It is within the purview of the rules and regulations of the House."
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