New Delhi, Lucknow:
RPN Singh joined the BJP ahead of UP elections
RPN Singh, one of the Congress's most prominent leaders in Uttar Pradesh, quit the party today and crossed over to the BJP ahead of next month's election in the state. He is likely to contest the UP polls from his stronghold Padrauna, from where he has been elected MLA thrice.
"I have been in one party for the last 32 years, but today I must say that party is no longer what it used to be. Today, everyone knows that if there is one party that is working for the benefit of the people and is working on building the nation, it is the BJP," RPN Singh told reporters this afternoon. On stage with him was Jyotiraditya Scindia, who took the Congress-to-BJP route in 2020.
Mr Singh, a key OBC (Other Backward Class) leader from eastern UP, is the second big exit for the Congress in the state after Jitin Prasada, who is now a minister in the Yogi Adityanath-led BJP government in UP.
Mr Singh was on the list of the Congress's star campaigners for UP announced just yesterday. But he had reportedly been upset with the party for a while and had felt sidelined in the campaign led by Priyanka Gandhi Vadra in UP.
As news of his switch emerged, the Congress quoted Priyanka Gandhi as saying that the "battle which Congress party is fighting can be fought only with bravery" and "cowards can't fight it".
The former Union Minister is likely to contest the UP polls against Swami Prasad Maurya, who recently quit the BJP and joined the Samajwadi Party. The BJP expects Mr Singh to step into the void left by Mr Maurya, who led a mini-exodus of backward caste leaders in Uttar Pradesh
Mr Singh was elected as an MP from Kushinagar in 2009 but lost in 2014. Swami Prasad Maurya won the last two state polls from the Padrauna seat, first as a candidate of Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and later as a candidate of the BJP. But in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, Mr Maurya finished second after Mr Singh.
After changing his Twitter bio and dropping his Congress credentials this morning, Mr Singh tweeted his resignation letter to Sonia Gandhi before announcing a "new beginning" under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, BJP president JP Nadda and Home Minister Amit Shah.
The Congress has lost many top leaders over the past two years. The shock exit of Mr Scindia in 2020 was among the triggers for a big churn in the party that led to 23 leaders writing to Sonia Gandhi asking for "visible and full-time" leadership and collective decision-making.
Mr Scindia, Mr Prasada, and Mr Singh were all close Rahul Gandhi aides. Another member of that now-depleted club, Sachin Pilot, was placated recently with cabinet spots in Rajasthan after months of disenchantment but many believe it is an unstable truce.
Congress leader Karti Chidambaram tweeted:
"It's sad. Many in-charges have come and gone, doesn't matter. He must have decided after a lot of thinking. We're true soldiers of Congress, we'll live and die here. We think his decision is wrong," Jharkhand Congress chief Rajesh Thakur told news agency ANI.