Senior Congress leader and sitting MP from the Pauri constituency Satpal Maharaj on Friday resigned from the Congress and joined the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Recently Mr. Maharaj had declined from contesting the polls over unresolved issues with Chief Minister Harish Rawat, especially regarding the slow reconstruction works in the disaster-hit areas.

Mr. Maharaj’s constituency was the worst-hit areas in the June deluge that ravaged the State last year.

While speaking to the media in New Delhi, Mr Rawat said may be Mr Maharaj knew that he would lose from the Pauri constituency as he had not done much work there.

It was unfortunate that Mr Maharaj left the Congress and turned away from his responsibilities when the State had challenges of reconstruction and rehabilitation, Mr Rawat said.

Where Mr Maharaj’s exit from the Congress is a blow for the party ahead of the polls, there is an added pressure on the Congress’ rule in the State.

In the 70-member Assembly, the Congress, which has 33 MLAs, is supported by the seven-member Progressive Democratic Front (PDF) which comprises BSP MLAs, independents, and a Uttarakhand Kranti Dal (UKD) MLA.

Mantri Prasad Naithani, an independent who is a Cabinet Minister and Mr Maharaj’s close aide said Mr Maharaj’s exit was the result of the negligence of the State leadership. “Congress High Command was misguided about him. He was disrespected in the party which led to his exit.”

On being asked whether the PDF would withdraw support from the Congress, Mr Naithani said, “The PDF will discuss before taking any decision. At present we [the members of the PDF] do not think the Congress in the State is in any danger.”

However, Mr Naithani said there were six Congress MLAs who were Mr Maharaj’s staunch supporters. The PDF’s decision would follow their decision, he said.

Mr Maharaj was in the pipeline as the State’s chief ministerial candidate. However, he was sidelined as Mr Harish Rawat was declared as the State’s Chief Minister in February this year.

Sources said Congress MLA and Cabinet Minister Amrita Rawat, who is Mr Maharaj’s wife, was upset with Mr Harish Rawat over portfolio distribution after the horticulture department was taken away from her.

Former Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna who was replaced by Mr Harish Rawat in February said, “He [Satpal Maharaj] was not handled well by the Congress.”

If the Congress wanted the issues could have been resolved, Mr Bahuguna said.

Uttarakhand Congress president Yashpal Arya said it was sad that Mr Maharaj joined the communal forces, whom he despised.

After Mr Maharaj’s exit the Congress is faced with the immediate challenge to find a candidate from the Pauri constituency who would contest against BJP’s strong candidate former Uttarakhand Chief Minister B.C. Khanduri.