Kerala's lone BJP lawmaker, whose win marked the party's debut in the state four years ago, stirred up a controversy with his contradicting remarks on a resolution against the centre's contentious farm laws that was unanimously passed in the state assembly. Shortly after his speech in the assembly favouring the laws, O Rajagopal did not vote against the resolution. He later stunned many with his response to reporters in its "support". The 91-year-old BJP leader has now has released a statement saying he "strongly opposed" it.
The resolution that seeks the repeal of the three laws - a core demand of thousands camping near Delhi borders since late November - was moved by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan in the state assembly. "If these protests continue, it will affect Kerala badly. If agriculture produce stops coming to a consumer state like Kerala, the state will be pushed towards hunger. The Centre is shirking its responsibility of providing fair prices to farmers ," Mr Vijayan said as he tabled it, urging centre to repeal the laws and accept the protesting farmers' demands.
The ruling LDF and opposition Congress-led UDF voted in its favour. The BJP's lone MLA, however, backed the farm laws in the assembly during his speech. "Bharat is a land of farmers. These laws are for the benefit and protection of farmers - to do away with middle men and commission agents. These laws give rights to farmers to sell their produce anywhere. People opposing these laws are those against interest of farmers. Such laws have been suggested by (the) Congress and (the) CPM in the past," he told the house. But he didn't vote against the resolution.
Outside the assembly, his remarks stunned the reporters when he said: "I support this resolution. We have certain differences in the arguments that they have put forward. I have pointed out those differences. I agree with the substance of the resolution."
When it was pointed out to him that he was going against his party's stand by backing the state resolution, he said: "This may not be party stand. These compromises are a part of democratic system. We must not be adamant. We must go with consensus. Before that consensus is formalised, I put my difference of opinions before people."
Hours later, he made a u-turn in a press statement, making it clear he was against the resolution: "I have strongly opposed the resolution against farm laws. I have clearly stated my stand in the assembly during my speech. I have even said that Prime Minister is always ready for talks but the pre-condition by (the) protesters to repeal the laws for talks has delayed the process. That I am against the central government is contrary to the truth."
The BJP MLA also alleged "violation of rules" in the assembly when the resolution was passed. "The speaker, during voting, did not ask those supporting and those opposing separately. He asked as one question, instead of asking separately. This is (a) violation of rules."
Mr Rajagopal made headline in 2016 when he won his first election at the age of 86 after he lost 15 elections. "It's not the first time. Abraham Lincoln contested several elections only to be defeated... before he finally became US President. We pursue because we have an aim," he had told NDTV at the time. His win had marked the BJP's debut in Kerala, a state that never saw beyond the Left and the Congress.
Thursday's special session was preceded by a controversy - Governor Arif Mohammed Khan had earlier denied Pinarayi Vijayan government's first request to call the session. He later agreed after the state government made a second recommendation.
The controversial agriculture legislations, which cleared parliament in September without much debate, have led to the biggest protests the farm sector has seen in years.
Thousands have been camping near Delhi borders since last month demanding minimum guarantee price for their produce and demonstrating against entry of private players in the agriculture sector.
Yesterday, after sixth round of discussions with farmer leaders, the government said an agreement was reached on two of the four issues raised by the protesters.