OBC leader Dharam Singh Saini on Thursday became the third minister to resign from the Uttar Pradesh cabinet this week, giving yet another jolt to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party in the run-up to the assembly polls.
Hours before Saini's resignation, Shikohabad MLA Mukesh Verma announced that he is leaving the BJP.
Most of the 10 MLAs, including the ministers, who have declared they are quitting during the last three days are from the Other Backward Classes and appear to be headed towards Akhilesh Yadav's Samajwadi Party.
"He is a very good leader who has real concern for the people. He is the messiah of Dalits and the backwards. We made a BJP government in 2017 and will make his government in 2022," Saini said after a meeting with Yadav that lasted over an hour-and-a-half.
Like the other two ministers -- Om Prakash Maurya and Dara Singh Chauhan -- Saini did not categorically declare that he is joining that party, after confirming that he has quit the Yogi Adityanath cabinet.
But on Twitter, the SP president was quick to 'welcome' Saini, who was minister of state (independent charge) for Ayush, Food Security and Drug Administration.
The desertions by mostly non-Yadav OBC leaders is likely to strengthen the SP influence over those communities.
Altogether, the OBCs form 50 per cent of the UP population and play a crucial role in elections.
Saini's resignation comes just two days after a video message in which he denied quitting the BJP.
He had then described Maurya as an elder brother but said he had no talked with him.
In his resignation letter to Governor Anandiben Patel, Saini said he was resigning over the 'continued neglect' of the aspirations of Dalits, the backwards, farmers, educated unemployed and small and mid-level traders who together brought the BJP to power in Uttar Pradesh.
The four-time MLA from Nakud in Saharanpur district claimed that the representatives of Dalits and the backwards were also being neglected.
Both Maurya and Chauhan had levelled similar allegations in their resignation letters.
There is no word yet from the Raj Bhavan on whether the resignations have been accepted.
In his tweet, Yadav welcomed Saini into the SP-fold.
'With the arrival of Dr Dharam Singh Saini ji, another warrior for social justice, our positive and progressive politics has received more enthusiasm and strength. Greetings and a hearty welcome for him in SP,' he said.
As in the case of the other two ministers, Yadav posted a picture of the two of them together.
All ministers and most of the MLAs who have walked out of the BJP so far, have sworn loyalty to Maurya, who resigned from the cabinet on Tuesday and set in motion a series of desertions.
Most of them had crossed over to the BJP from the Bahujan Samaj Party ahead of the 2017 elections in Uttar Pradesh.
Some BJP leaders claim that they are now leaving as they know that they will not be fielded this time.
Maurya, the five-time MLA from Padrauna in Kushinagar district, also hasn't explicitly declared that he is joining the SP, but said 'everything will be clear on January 14'.
"Yet another minister will resign tomorrow," Saini claimed but refused to mention a name.
"Almost every day one minister and three or four BJP MLAs will resign and this trend will continue till January 20," he added.
There are unconfirmed reports about another MLA, Bala Prasad Awasthi from Dhaurahra in Lakhimpur Kheri district, too is leaving the BJP.
Saini said he had not made a sudden decision.
He claimed that about 140 BJP MLAs had protested in the past over the ruling party's 'anti-Dalit and anti-backwards' policies. But they were snubbed and 'threatened'.
"After that we came to realise our actual standing in the party, and since we could not do much we were waiting for the times to change. Many more of these 140 MLAs, including ministers, will resign in the near future," he said.
"For five years, we have been exploited," he alleged.
Expressing satisfaction over his meeting with the SP president Saini termed the BJP a sinking ship.
Earlier in the day, Mukesh Verma, a BJP MLA from Shikohabad in Firozabad district and a Nishad caste leader, quit the party.
He cited the state government's 'lack of respect' towards the backward classes and Dalits as the reason.
Verma said he will continue the 'fight for justice' under Maurya.
In the recent past, Verma had met SP leaders amid rumours that the BJP would not field him in the upcoming polls.
Other MLAs who have announced quitting the BJP in the past three days are Avtar Singh Bhadana, Brajesh Kumar Prajapati, Roshan Lal Varma and Bhagwati Sagar.
These are the 10 MLAs who have resigned so far, the top three were ministers:
Swami Prasad Maurya
Dharam Singh Saini
Dara Singh Chauhan
Avtar Singh Bhadana
Brijesh Kumar Prajapati
Roshan Lal Varma
Radha Krishna Sharma