BHOPAL — Senior BJP leader and former Union minister Sartaj Singh on Thursday switched over to the Congress after his name did not figure in the ruling party's third list for the 28 November Madhya Pradesh Assembly polls.
Singh, a two-time MLA from Seoni-Malwa who had wept openly after the BJP snub, was immediately named as the Congress' nominee for the Hoshangabad Assembly seat in the opposition party's fifth list comprising 16 candidates.
Singh holds sway in the Hoshangabad region and had defeated late Congress stalwart Arjun Singh from there in 1998.
"I am grateful to the Congress for nominating me from Hoshangabad. I had been with the saffron family for 58 long years. The BJP denied me a ticket. I want to be in the midst of the people so I am contesting elections," Singh told PTI over phone.
"I don't want to sit at home and confine myself to counting prayer beads," he added.
With the fifth list, released Thursday evening, the Congress has now announced names for 225 seats in the 230-member Madhya Pradesh Assembly.
The Congress is yet to announce its contestants from Budhni (Sehore), Manpur (Dhar), Indore-2, Indore-5 and Jatara (Tikamgarh) seats.
Congress sources said the party is looking for a strong candidate for Budhni to "confine" Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan there.
The BJP Thursday released its third list of 32 candidates, leaving only six seats, in the 230-member Madhya Pradesh House, for which no names have been declared so far.
These are Seoni-Malwa, from which Singh was a sitting MLA, Panna, Lakhnadoun, Bhopal North, Mahidpur and Garoth.
Sitting among his supporters earlier on Thursday, the Sikh leader tried to conceal his tears by covering his face for a few moments.
State BJP spokesperson Anil Soumitra, who had earlier in the day called Singh's teary reaction to his exclusion from the party's list as "unbecoming", later in the evening said the veteran MLA's exit would not harm the BJP.
"Will the Congress workers accept him? Is this trend of nursing personal political ambitions right? If he was such a big leader, why he did not run as an Independent candidate," Soumitra said.
Earlier in the day, asked for a comment, Soumitra said," The BJP has valued him immensely. The party has made him a Union minister, twice Madhya Pradesh Minister, MP and MLA. What more does he want? Instead of Vanaprashta (retirement in forest), he wants to stay put in Grihastha (household)."
Singh was earlier dropped as MP PWD minister along with state Home Minister Babulal Gaur in June 2016 reportedly due to old age.
Singh is the third powerful BJP leader to join Congress after Sanjay Sharma and Padma Shukla.
Sharma was the sitting BJP MLA from Tendukhenda in Seoni district and has now been given a ticket from there by the Congress.
Shukla, who resigned as MP Social Welfare Board chief and quit the BJP, has got the Congress' nomination from Vijayraghavgarh constituency in Katni district.
Besides, the Congress has made Sanjay Singh Masani, brother-in-law of Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Chouhan, its nominee from Waraseoni assembly seat in Balaghat district, currently represented by BJP's Yogendra Nirmal.
A native of Maharashtra, Masani's name figured on the fourth list of 29 candidates released Wednesday by the Congress.
Meanwhile, the Congress took a dig at the BJP over Sartaj Singh and said the ruling party had a habit of treating senior leaders in such a manner.
MP Congress spokesperson Bhupendra Gupta claimed that the BJP had "no respect" for elders and gave the example of party patriarch LK Advani.