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Former Union minister Arvind Netam joins BSP

Former Union minister and tribal leader Arvind Netam on Monday joined the Bahujan Samaj Party, severing a relationship lasting over twenty years with the Congress.

Netam said he had ''sour-sweet experiences'' in the Congress and added that he could not get justice in Madhya Pradesh state politics.

BSP supremo Kanshi Ram hailed Netam's entry into the party on the occasion of Ambedkar Jayanti, saying he himself had requested the latter to join the party on this day. Netam, along with some of his associates, was present at Chief Minister Mayawati's home in Lucknow where the announcement was made.

Netam won election five times to the Lok Sabha from the Kanker reserved seat in the Bastar district of Madhya Pradesh. He was Union deputy minister for education and social welfare from February 1973 to March 1977, and Union minister of state for agriculture from January 1993 to 1996.

Kanshi Ram said the exodus from different political parties into the BSP had just started and hoped the party will emerge as a third force before the next assembly election in Madhya Pradesh which is due next year.

Netam's decision appears to have upset the Congress applecart in Madhya Pradesh. His family has played a big role for the party since 1952 when his father, Vishram Singh Thakur, was elected Congress MLA in Bastar district, the largest tribal district of the country. Netam was important enough to be considered as a tribal candidate for the chief ministership.

Chief Minister Digvijay Singh has long favoured a political alliance with the BSP to improve the Congress showing at the hustings. Now that Netam has joined the BSP, the party is likely to reap ''rich dividends,'' political observers said. So far the BSP only had scheduled caste leaders.

The observers said new political configurations and a 'tribal-dalit' combine were likely to emerge in the state . On the other hand, Netam's departure from the Congress was viewed as a personal loss to Digvijay Singh who along with him and former Union minister Kamal Nath, had forged a triumvirate in the Madhya Pradesh Congress party.

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