Former Punjab Congress president Sunil Jakhar joined the Bharatiya Janata Party on Thursday, days after he quit the grand old party, and thanked Prime Minister Narendra Modi for accepting him into the party fold.
Jakhar, a prominent Hindu leader in Punjab, joined the BJP in the presence of party president J P Nadda.
The 68-year-old leader had quit the Congress last week with a 'good luck and good bye' message.
Welcoming him to the BJP, Nadda said Jakhar enjoyed a special stature in Punjab that was independent of the party and will help the BJP strengthen nationalist forces in the border state.
"BJP is emerging as the number one nationalist force in Punjab. Hence it is necessary for all leaders having nationalist ideology to join the BJP to strengthen the party and for a stronger Punjab," Nadda said.
Belonging to the Jat community, Sunil, son of a Congress stalwart and a popular farmers' leader Balram Jakhar, is a three-term MLA and a former Lok Sabha member from Gurdaspur.
Addressing the media after joining the BJP, he lashed out at the Congress, accusing it of insulting the spirit of brotherhood in Punjab by trying to divide the state in terms of percentages of castes, communities and religion.
Jakhar became emotional as he recalled the five-decade association of his family with the Congress and said that he had decided to quit the party the day attempts were made to silence his voice by issuing a show-cause notice for making certain remarks.
"It is not easy to break a relationship with the Congress that spanned three generations - from 1972 till now. We had been with the Congress in good times and bad," he said.
Jakhar said he had stood by every relationship based on principles.
"But, when principles are broken, when we move away from our ideology, then I believe it is the right time for a re-think," he said.
"If Sunil Jakhar had to break a 50-year relationship... There were some fundamental issues. There was no personal dispute. The dispute was regarding nationalism and the integrity of Punjab. The harmony of the state which could not be broken by bullets of AK-47 rifles," he said.
"I had to leave with a heavy heart after I was put in the dock for asserting that Punjab cannot be divided on the basis of caste, sects and religion," Jakhar said.
Attempts were made to view Punjab in terms of percentage of religion, castes, and community, Jakhar said in an apparent reference to the Congress' projection of Charanjit Singh Channi as the first Dalit Chief Minister of Punjab.
"Punjab had established a template for the country that every single citizen has the same right as everybody else. There are no second-class citizens in Punjab," he said.
He thanked Prime Minister Narendra Modi for having a finger on the pulse of Punjab when he attended the 400th birth anniversary of Guru Tegh Bahadur at the Red Fort.
"Even his bitterest critics admitted that the Prime Minister had his finger on the pulse of Punjab. I bow to that spirit. It was a landmark step. He connected with the people emotionally. He understood the Punjabi spirit of togetherness," he said.
The BJP leadership has welcomed me into the party fold because they know that Sunil Jakhar was not pursuing politics for personal good, he said.
While the Congress has lost a prominent Hindu leader in Punjab with Jakhar's exit, his inclusion may help the BJP in increasing its footprint in the border state, where the saffron party had been a fringe player and contested elections mostly in alliance with the Akali Dal.
Jakhar had quit the Congress last week after lashing out at Channi on Twitter, saying that he was 'not an asset' as portrayed by the party leadership.
Jakhar was the frontrunner for the post of Punjab chief minister last year when Congress replaced Amarinder Singh with Channi.
However, a section of the Congress leadership had opposed Jakhar, a Hindu, contending that only a Sikh can be the chief minister of Punjab.
A former Lok Sabha member, Jakhar was removed from all party posts by the Congress following allegations of anti-party activities by a section of party leaders in Punjab.
Before quitting, he had also criticised veteran Congress leader Ambika Soni for her statement on the 'repercussions of having a Hindu chief minister in Punjab'.
Jakhar also held Soni's statement as one of the reasons for the Congress' drubbing in the Punjab assembly polls earlier this year.
His father, Balram Jakhar was the Speaker of the seventh and eighth Lok Sabhas and later held the agriculture portfolio in the government led by Prime Minister P V Narasimha Rao.
The senior Jakhar was also the Governor of Madhya Pradesh from 2004-09. He passed away on February 3, 2016.