Former Bharatiya Janata Party leader and ex-Union minister Yashwant Sinha on Saturday joined the Trinamool Congress, ANI reported. The 83-year-old leader had quit the BJP in 2018.

“You might be surprised about today’s news...about my earlier decision to quit politics and join again now,” Sinha said in a press conference after joining Trinamool. “The current state of India shows that the values we used to follow in a democracy are now in danger...they are no longer being followed. Today almost all our democratic institutions have been weakened.”

Sinha joined TMC at Trinamool Bhawan in the presence of MPs Derek O Brien and Sudip Bandopadhyay and party leader Subrata Mukherjee. Before officially joining the party, he held a 45-minute meeting with West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, Sinha said at the press conference.

Sinha said he decided to join the party after the “attack” on Mamata Banerjee on March 10 as she was campaigning. “The tipping point was the attack on Mamata ji in Nandigram,” he said. “It was this moment that I decided to join TMC and support her.”

The development assumes significance ahead of the upcoming Assembly elections in West Bengal, where the BJP and TMC have been strongly campaigning against each other.

He further said that the BJP has deviated from its ways and only believes in winning elections now. “The BJP of today is completely different from what it was under [Atal Bihari] Vajpayee,” the former Cabinet minister said. “Vajpayeeji believed in building consensus...but look at the situation today. Except for the Janata Dal (United), all parties have left the National Democratic Alliance.”

The Trinamool Congress will win in the state elections with a “thumping majority”, Sinha said that the polls held significance in terms of national politics too. “So I think we should rally behind [West Bengal Chief Minister] Mamata Banerjee with whatever strength we can,” Sinha said, justifying his decision.

Sinha also claimed that Mamata Banerjee had offered to be held hostage in exchange of passengers of an Indian Airlines plane that was hijacked and taken to Kandahar in Afghanistan in 1999, reported NDTV. Sinha praised the West Bengal chief minister for being a “fighter”.

“I want to tell you today that when the Indian Airlines plane was hijacked to Kandahar, there was a discussion happening in the [Union] Cabinet,” Sinha said. “Mamat ji offered to go herself as a hostage on the condition that the Indians are released in exchange. She was ready to make that sacrifice.”

Sinha praised the West Bengal chief minister for being a “fighter”.

Banerjee was the Railway Minister in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee Cabinet when the Kandahar hijacking incident took place. An Indian Airlines flight from Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan International Airport, bound for Delhi, was flown to Kandahar. The crisis ended after India released three terrorists – Mushtaq Ahmed Zargar, Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, and Masood Azhar.

Sinha first became India’s finance minister in November 1990 and stayed in office till June 1991, under then Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar. His second tenure at the finance ministry was between December 1998 and July 2002 under Vajpayee. From then to May 2004, he served as India’s foreign minister, according to NDTV. However, he turned a vocal critic of the Narendra Modi regime and criticised the government on a number of contentious matters like the Citizenship Amendment Act, abrogation of special status of Jammu and Kashmir and the Rafale fighter jet deal.

His son Jayant Sinha is a sitting Lok Sabha MP from Jharkhand’s Hazaribagh constituency.

The Trinamool Congress has witnessed several of its leaders, including ministers and MLAs joining the BJP in the lead up to the state elections. The elections to the 294 seats in West Bengal will be held in eight phases from March 27 to April 29. The results will be declared on May 2. The state will see a three-cornered fight between the Trinamool Congress, the BJP and an alliance between Left parties, Congress and the Indian Secular Front.