New Delhi: Congress leader R.P.N. Singh, who was in-charge of party affairs in Jharkhand, resigned from the Congress Tuesday and has joined the BJP. The move comes ahead of the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections next month.
Singh is one of the many Congress leaders, part of the once-famed ‘Team Rahul Gandhi’, who have quit over a period of two-three years to join other parties. Other Congress members, who were once part of the former party president’s coterie but have since quit, include Jyotiraditya Scindia, Jitin Prasada, Sushmita Dev, Priyanka Chaturvedi, Lalitesh Pati Tripathi and Aditi Singh.
While Scindia is now a union minister in the BJP government at the Centre, Jitin Prasada was made a minister in the Yogi government soon after joining the BJP in 2021. Both Priyanka Chaturvedi and Sushmita Dev are currently Rajya Sabha members, the first for the Shiv Sena and the latter for the Trinamool Congress.
Commenting on R.P.N. Singh’s exit, Congress national spokesperson Supriya Shrinate said: “To win this fight you have to be brave. Only a coward can jump to a party with a completely opposite ideology.”
Meanwhile, senior BJP leader and union minister Jyotiraditya Scindia accompanied Singh to the podium, as he formally joined the BJP Tuesday.
Addressing a press after joining the BJP, Singh said, “The party where I worked hard for 32 years (the Congress) is no longer what it used to be. Many had asked me to join the BJP for a long time, but better late than never (I can only say Der aye durst aye). I will work as a ‘Karyakarta’ (worker) towards fulfilling PM Modi’s dream for India.”
He added: “The way this government has worked hard to improve the law and order situation in the state is commendable. I will do everything that is assigned to me as a small party worker.”
Welcoming him to the party fold, union minister Dharmendra Pradhan said just like Scindia before him, he had hoped that Singh would also join the BJP.
The BJP’s Uttar Pradesh spokesperson Harish Srivastava said Singh’s entry into the party will strengthen its poll prospects in UP. “People are joining the BJP impressed by the party and the work of the Uttar Pradesh government. They will strengthen the party and ensure it emerges victorious. R.P.N. Singh comes from a political family. His family is known quite well and they have a good influence in Purvanchal. We hope he will make the party stronger.”
‘Shows party’s disconnect with leaders’
Born on 25 April 1964 in Delhi, Singh — who is married to journalist Sonia Singh — is often referred to as the Raja Saheb of UP’s Padrauna, is a member of the royal Sainthwar family of Kushinagar.
The former Congress leader, who had been with that party for over three decades, also has significant political lineage — his father Kunwar C.P.N. Singh was an MP from Kushinagar, who had served as Minister of State for Defence in the Indira Gandhi government in the 1980s. He had also been an MLA from Padrauna.
R.P.N. Singh, a three-time Congress MLA from Padrauna (between 1996 and 2007), became an MP in 2009, when he defeated the then BSP state president Swami Prasad Maurya in UP (Maurya had joined the BJP in 2016, and has now joined the Samajwadi Party). Singh subsequently became the Minister of State for Home in the then UPA government at the Centre, led by former prime minister Manmohan Singh.
It has, however, been his only victory in the parliamentary elections so far. He contested both the 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha elections for the Congress but had to face defeat both times.
While R.P.N. Singh was a minister in the Manmohan Singh government, the Congress had also fielded his mother, Mohini Devi, in a by-poll from Padrauna, but she lost.
In his resignation letter addressed to Congress interim president Sonia Gandhi Tuesday, Singh said, “I hereby tender my resignation from the primary membership of the Indian National Congress with immediate effect. I thank you for providing me an opportunity to serve the nation, people and the party.”
Singh’s resignation from the Congress came after the party had already announced his name as part of its ‘star campaigners’ for the upcoming UP elections.
Commenting on the party’s loss of face, a source in the Congress said, “This shows the party’s disconnect with the leaders. His name was included in the list of star campaigners and the next day he joined the BJP.”
The source added: “He (Singh) was considered close to the Gandhis but had been sidelined for sometime now.”
The former MP had first contested the Lok Sabha elections in 1996 but was defeated by BJP’s Ram Nagina Mishra. “Still, he was one of the favorite leaders in the Congress. He was also a part of the Congress national team,” said a senior Congress leader.
The leader added: “When he won the Lok Sabha elections for the first time in 2009, he was made a minister in the Manmohan Singh government. He has also been the Minister of Petroleum, Highways and Surface Transport. Congress also made him the state in-charge of Jharkhand. But for the past sometime he has been sidelined.”
‘R.P.N. Singh one of most prominent representatives’
Singh belongs to the Saithwar community, an OBC sub-caste called Kurmi-Sainthawar, which enjoys influence in eastern UP, chiefly around areas like Kushinagar and Basti.. Many credit the BJP’s sweeping victory in the 2017 assembly polls to the support it garnered from non-Yadav OBCs. With the exit of leaders like Swami Prasad Maurya and Dara Singh Chauhan (who have both joined the Samajwadi Party ahead of the upcoming elections), Singh’s inclusion in the BJP is aimed at consolidating non-Yadav OBC communities in the region.
“His (R.P.N. Singh’s) area of influence is confined to the Kushinagar Lok Sabha constituency, adjoining Gorakhpur, which he represented in 2009,” said a senior BJP leader.
He added: “He has a personal connect with the voters in the region. His old assembly seat of Padrauna, which he represented thrice. from 1996 to 2009, falls in the Kushinagar Parliamentary constituency. With Maurya’s exit, the party feels that his (Singh’s) inclusion will strengthen the UP BJP’s chances in the area.”
The Kushinagar Lok Sabha seat is spread across five assembly constituencies: Haata, Ramkola, Khadda, Padrauna and Kushinagar.
“If you look at the Lok Sabha constituency of Kushinagar, OBCs have the most dominant presence ranging from 35 and 40 per cent, with Sainthwars and Kushwaha being the two major groups. R.P.N. Singh is one of the most prominent representatives, who has a strong link with the people. He had suffered losses last time (in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls) as the Congress is not a player in UP,” added the BJP leader.
Meanwhile, after Maurya’s exit from the BJP, it is looking for a strong face to field from Padrauna (Maurya had won the seat in the 2017 UP assembly elections).
According to sources in the BJP, it is still unclear whether Singh will contest the assembly election. “In case he won’t contest the assembly polls he will try and get ticket for his close aides. This is still being worked out, whether he will contest himself or field his close-aides,” said the senior BJP leader quoted above.
Political experts too believe that his entrance into BJP will strengthen the party’s chances in these areas.
“His entry will definitely have an impact in Gorakhpur and Kushinagar. The BJP is set to gain from his entry in these particular seats as these are Singh’s area of influence,” said political expert Badri Narayan.