New Delhi: Bihar politician Ram Kripal Yadav, a close confidant of Lalu Prasad for decades, today joined the BJP in a move that could impact poll arithmetic in the state.
Ram Kripal, a member of the Rajya Sabha, had been with Lalu's Rashtriya Janata Dal or RJD for nearly three decades.
After a grand welcome to the BJP with a giant garland and sweets, he praised the party's Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi as "the man India is looking up to."
The RJD and Lalu have always criticised Mr Modi over the 2002 riots in his Gujarat.
A rattled Lalu called his former lieutenant an opportunist. "Overnight Narendra Modi has become his brother. The way Ram Kripal went against all his principles today, the people of Bihar are watching," he said.
Ram Kripal, 56, left the RJD last week after Lalu declared that his daughter, Misa Bharti, will contest the national election from Pataliputra, a constituency he had wanted.
"I was saddened by what was happening to ordinary workers like us. Family is getting precedence over social justice," he said, flanked by BJP chief Rajnath Singh and other top leaders of his new party.
If Ram Kripal contests from Pataliputra, he will be a formidable opponent for Lalu's 37-year-old daughter, who has never fought an election. On Friday, Misa visited Ram Kripal's home in Delhi in an attempt to placate him, but he left his house without meeting her.
"It's not a fight between an uncle and niece. It's a fight between ideologies," said Misa, who refers to Ram Kripal as "chacha" or uncle.
Her mother Rabri Devi said the veteran's exit would not affect the RJD, but sources say the statement underrates Ram Kripal's role as Lalu's go-to man for crises.
A fortnight ago, when 13 of Lalu's state legislators appeared ready to join Nitish Kumar's Janata Dal United, it was Ram Kirpal who staved off a split, talking nine leaders into dropping their rebellion.