IN A MAJOR boost for the BJP ahead of the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections, senior Congress leader and former Union minister R P N Singh joined it on Tuesday, saying the Congress was no longer the party it used to be.
“I have been in one party for the last 32 years, but today I must say that the party is no longer what it used to be, nor is its thought. 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,” Singh told reporters after he was welcomed at the BJP headquarters here by a battery of BJP leaders, including UP Deputy Chief Ministers Keshav Prasad Maurya and Dinesh Sharma, UP BJP chief Swatantra Dev Singh, as well as Union ministers Dharmendra Pradhan and Anurag Thakur.
Also present was Jyotiraditya Scindia who, like Singh, was once considered one of the Congress’s Generation Next, backed by Rahul Gandhi. Scindia joined the BJP in 2020.
The exit of the CWC member and AICC office-bearer appeared to have come as a shock for the Congress, which just Monday featured Singh’s name in its list of star campaigners for UP. Singh was a minister of state in the UPA II government.
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— RPN Singh (@SinghRPN) January 25, 2022
BJP sources said that while not big in terms of electoral prospects, Singh’s entry boosted the party’s “optics and narrative” in the state. As a Sainthwar OBC face, the scion of the royal family of Padrauna is expected to get some respite for the party after high-profile exits of some leaders belonging to the community. This is expected to hit the BJP hardest in eastern UP, and Singh, who is from the region, is expected to soften the blow.
“It may not help the BJP in UP much. But it will add to the party’s overall narrative. It will help project the Congress as an indolent party and its leadership as inefficient, in states where we are in a direct fight with it,” said a BJP MP. Of the five states going to polls soon, the BJP and Congress are in direct contest in Uttarakhand, Goa, Punjab and Manipur.
BJP sources said Singh could be fielded against Swami Prasad Maurya, one of the BJP OBC leaders now in the Samajwadi Party. “Singh seems to be keen on entering the national scene through the Upper House. But the party wants to showcase its backward leadership line-up,” a source said.
Maurya is a two-time winner from the Padrauna seat (once each on BSP and BJP tickets), from where Singh is likely to be fielded. Singh has also represented the seat thrice, and his sphere of influence is confined to the area, including the Kushi Nagar Lok Sabha constituency, which he represented in 2009. Padrauna is part of the Kushi Nagar Lok Sabha seat. Incidentally, Singh won in 2009 defeating Maurya from Kushi Nagar.
Hours after Singh joined the BJP, the Padrauna Congress candidate, Manish Jaiswal, resigned from the party. Kushinagar Congress president Rajkumar Singh also announced his resignation, telling PTI he was doing so as there is “no respect for R P N Singh in the party”.
Lavishing praise on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath Tuesday, R P N Singh said that as a native of UP’s Purvanchal, “I have seen how a double engine government has initiated development works in UP, which is the heart of India… Now I would like to be part of nation-building with PM Modi, as a small worker”. Later, he met Union minister Amit Shah and Adityanath.
The Rahul brigade in the Congress has been fast-depleting in recent years. Singh becomes the third member of it to join the BJP, after Scindia and Jitin Prasada, who is now a minister in the Adityanath government.
Reacting to Singh’s exit, the Congress talked of “courage” and “battle of ideology”. Spokesperson Supriya Shrinate said: “The kind of fight that the Congress is putting up all across the country, particularly in a state like UP, is a battle against the government’s resources, against agencies, it is a battle of ideology, a battle for truth. And to fight a battle as strongly pitched as this one… you have to fight it with courage, with a lot of dedication. This is not meant for the coward, and like Priyanka (Gandhi Vadra) has said, you need to be on your toes, you need to be full of courage. You cannot be a coward and fight this battle.”
However, behind the “brave” face, there was unease in the party on another prominent exit. “The party is withering away… People don’t see much hope and many more will leave. When will the Gandhis wake up is the question… which, of course, nobody can ask,” a senior leader said.
Another leader said: “The party is a ship adrift with many holes. And slowly sinking. Unless it goes to the dockyard for urgent repairs and puts steady hands on the deck, it is going to get worse.”
One leader said decisions are now increasingly being taken by a “small coterie”. “In Uttar Pradesh, it is Priyanka Gandhi Vadra who decides who will fight from where. Do you think the Central Election Commission (the apex decision making on candidates) discussed the names which were announced?… Do you think when Priyanka Gandhi comes with a list anybody discusses it?… There is no inclusive thinking, consultative process or collective leadership. The rest of us are mere employees.”
In the evening, the Congress announced the appointment of Avinash Pande as the general secretary in-charge of Jharkhand. Pande was earlier in-charge of Rajasthan.
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