Just weeks ahead of Uttar Pradesh assembly polls, Congress leader R P N Singh quit the party on Tuesday and joined the Bharatiya Janata Party, in a setback to the grand old party, which is already facing an existential crisis in the state.
Singh, who was named as a star campaigner on Monday by the Congress for the Uttar Pradesh assembly polls, posted his resignation to party chief Sonia Gandhi on Twitter with a caption 'Today, at a time, we are celebrating the formation of our great Republic, I begin a new chapter in my political journey. Jai Hind'.
A former Union minister in the United Progressive Alliance II government, the 57-year-old leader joined the BJP at the party headquarters here, evoking a sharp reaction from Congress leaders, including spokesperson Supriya Shrinate, who called him a 'coward'.
Singh was also the Congress in charge for Jharkhand, where the party is in power along with the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha.
Though Singh was not considered a pan-UP leader and his exit may have a limited impact on the election prospects of the Congress in the upcoming polls, politically his quitting is significant as he was considered close to Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi.
His exit also does not bode well for the Congress, which is seeking to revive itself in Uttar Pradesh, where it has remained out of power for three decades and only managed seven seats in the 403-member state assembly in 2017.
By bringing in Singh, a kurmi leader, an OBC in eastern Uttar Pradesh, the BJP is also seeking to neutralise the effect of OBC leader Swami Prasad Mourya's exit from the party.
There is also speculation that the BJP may field Singh from Padrauna, the assembly seat he represented thrice from 1996 to 2007. He later resigned from the assembly and contested Lok Sabha polls.
Singh, also a scion of the royal family from Padrauna, had defeated Maurya from Kushinagar in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls.
However, Singh lost both the 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha elections from Kushinagar.
The Congress has been losing its young leaders to the BJP, especially those considered close to Rahul Gandhi. Singh is the second big exit from the Congress in Uttar Pradesh after Jitin Prasada, who quit last year. Prasada joined the BJP and later became a minister in the Yogi Adityanath government.
Shortly after he tweeted his resignation, Singh further said, 'this is a new beginning for me and I look forward to my contribution to nation-building under the visionary leadership & guidance of the Honourable Prime Minister Shri @narendramodi, BJP president Shri @JPNadda ji & Honourable Home Minister @AmitShah ji.'
He joined the saffron party in the presence of BJP's Uttar Pradesh in-charge and Union minister Dharmendra Pradhan and two deputy chief ministers in the state.
After joining the BJP, Singh said the Congress is not the same party where he worked for 32 long years and wants to contribute to the nation's development while reposing faith in Prime Minister Modi.
Later, Singh also posted 'My motto India, First, Always' as his description on his Twitter page.
Sharply reacting to his departure from the Congress, Shrinate said, 'to fight this battle for truth and ideals, one needs strength and courage and cowards can't fight this battle'.
Echoing similar sentiments, another Congress spokesperson Gourav Vallabh said Singh was 'not fully committed' towards the party's ideology and that is why he left this fight midway to join the saffron party.
Besides Pradhan, Jyotiraditya Scindia, who quit the Congress to join the BJP and is a Union minister, was also present at the ceremony to induct Singh.
Singh became youth Congress President of Uttar Pradesh in 1997 and AICC Secretary in 2003. He was elected to Lok Sabha in 2009.
Several Congress leaders including some of its MLAs have quit the grand old party in the recent past. These include a big Muslim leader Imran Masood from western Uttar Pradesh.
The face of the Congress campaign for women 'Ladki hoon, Lad Sakti hoon' in UP assembly election Priyanka Maurya has also quit the party.