Former student leader Kanhaiya Kumar on Tuesday joined the Congress party. He inducted at the All India Congress Committee headquarters in New Delhi in the presence of party leader Rahul Gandhi. At the event, Gujarat Dalit leader Jignesh Mevani, too, extended his support to the outfit, though he couldn't join the party formally due to technical reasons.
"I am joining the Congress because it's not just a party, it's an idea. It's the country's oldest and most democratic party, and I am emphasising on 'democratic'...Not just me, but many think the country can't survive without Congress," Mr Kumar said at a press meet after joining Congress.
"Congress party is like a big ship. If it's saved, I believe many people's aspirations, Mahatma Gandhi's oneness, Bhagat Singh's courage, and BR Ambedkar's idea of equality will be protected, too. This is why I have joined it."
He felt that a particular ideology was trying to ruin India's values, culture, history, and future. He also claimed that "crores of youngsters" feel that the country "can't be saved without saving the Congress".
Mr Kumar was earlier with the Communist Party of India (CPI) which he joined ahead of the 2019 general election. He then contested from his hometown Begusarai in Bihar against the BJP's Giriraj Singh of the BJP but failed to win.
Posters welcoming him to the party were put up outside the Congress office hours ahead of his switch. He reportedly met Mr Gandhi twice recently over two weeks. He also met Priyanka Gandhi Vadra.
A former president of the JNU Students' Union, Mr Kumar was jailed over alleged "anti-national slogans" raised at an event in 2016 to mark the death anniversary of Parliament attack mastermind Afzal Guru.
The BJP, however, brushed aside the significance of Kanhaiya's move.
Saying that Begusarai had rejected him, Bihar Minister Mangal Pandey told ANI that Mr Kumar was only demonstrating his "political ambition".
"Begusarai rejected Kanhiya Kumar's ideology earlier. Now he's changing his ideology and party for political ambition but public doesn't vote for anyone's political ambition. He's going to a party that has been rejected by Bihar and is a sinking boat now," Mr Pandey told ANI.
Mr Mevani, on the other hand, is a legislator representing Gujarat's Vadgam constituency. He is key to the Congress's poll arithmetic ahead of next year's Assembly election in that state.
A lawyer and former journalist, the Dalit leader's expression of support for the Congress comes at a time when the party is reaching out to the community -- it recently replaced Amarinder Singh as Punjab Chief Minister with Charanjit Singh Channi, a member of a Scheduled Caste.
"I could not join the Congress formally due to technical reasons. I am an independent MLA, if I join a party, I may not continue as an MLA...I am part of the Congress ideologically but I will fight the upcoming Gujarat polls from Congress symbol," Mr Mewani said.
"To save democracy and the idea of India, I have to be with a party that led the Independence struggle and dragged the British out of the country. This is why I am here with the Congress today."
Welcoming Mr Kumar, Congress General Secretary KC Venugopal said his party was looking forward to working with him and Mr Mevani to defeat "fascist forces" ruling this country.
"Kanhaiya Kumar is a symbol of the fight for freedom of expression in this country. He fought against fundamentalism as a student leader. The joining of kind of dynamic personality will fill the entire cadre of Congress with enthusiasm," Mr Venugopal said.
The moves by Mr Kumar and Mr Mevani have come at a time when some prominent leaders have left the Congress in recent months.
While former Mahila Congress chief Sushmita Dev joined the Trinamool Congress, former Union Minister Jitin Prasada is now with the BJP. Veteran Goa Congress leader Luizinho Faleiro resigned from the party yesterday.