Satpal Maharaj, an influential Congress leader from Uttarakhand, joined the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on Friday, a move that could be a huge blow to the Congress government in the hill state.
Besides, on a day of fast-paced developments, Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar, a bitter critic of BJP's prime minister nominee Narendra Modi, suffered a setback as former Rajya Sabha member NK Singh quit the Janata Dal (United).
There is a big talk that Singh too is heading for the BJP, which recently roped in Rajya Sabha member Ram Kripal Yadav from the Rashtriya Janata Dal and ex-Uttar Pradesh chief minister Jagdambika Pal from the Congress.
In New Delhi, Pauri parliamentarian Maharaj, who is said to have the support of 10 legislators in Uttarakhand's 70-member House, joined the BJP, even as a dispute over ticket distribution continued to haunt the saffron party.
"I want India to grow and outsmart China in development and this is only possible when an able leader such as Narendra Modi becomes the prime minister," Maharaj said.
BJP president Rajnath Singh said Maharaj's induction would be a "big boost" to the party in Uttarakhand, which has five Lok Sabha constituencies. In 2009, the Congress had won four of the seats.
The development came on a day when the BJP grappled with possible dissent of party veteran Jaswant Singh, 76, over denial of ticket to contest from Barmer in Rajasthan.
Jaswant Singh had earlier threatened to fight as an independent candidate from the seat if he did not get the party ticket.
His dissatisfaction is the newest chapter of bickering in the BJP after heavyweights such Lal Krishna Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi queered the pitch over ticket distribution. The BJP has given the Barmer ticket to Col (Retd.) Sona Ram Choudhary, who joined the party from the Congress.
Meanwhile, the BJP's latest catch, Maharaj, said he did not have the intention to bring down the Congress government in Uttarakhand.
A source in the BJP said the saffron party's focus was solely on the Lok Sabha polls. However, the source did not rule out the possibility of pulling the plug after the elections.
Maharaj has a massive following in the hill state and elsewhere because of his religious sermons, and was first angry at being sidestepped and Harish Rawat being appointed the chief minister.
He decided to quit after his choice of candidates in the Garhwal region was ignored by the Congress high command. The 62-year-old leader has been with Congress all along barring a few years in the 1990s.
How it all started
Maharaj had created ripples within the Congress by refusing the high command's offer to contest the general elections from Pauri this summer.
He turned down the offer, saying development in his parliamentary constituency was neglected under the two-year-old Congress government in the state.
Maharaj also raised the issue of Congress workers not being given adequate responsibilities.
Party insiders said by raising such issues, Maharaj tried to target the chief minister.
The Pauri MP was said to be unhappy with Rawat, who did not allocate Maharaj's wife and cabinet minister, Amrita Rawat, the horticulture department while distributing portfolios.
The exercise was carried out after a recent change of guard in the state that saw former CM Vijay Bahuguna being replaced with his bête noire, Harish Rawat.
Amrita Rawat had headed the key horticulture department in the Bahuguna government.
The chief minister, however, had recently "softened" his stand on the issue, assuring Maharaj that he would give the horticulture department to Amrita Rawat.
But the Pauri MP sprang a surprise on the Congress by quitting the party and joining the BJP.
With inputs from Ashok Mishra in Patna, PTI and IANS