Cong unfazed by Netam's resignation

The move by senior Congress leader to quit the party and join the NCP has hardly affected the tribal Bastar region, which Netam represents, writes Pradip Kumar Maitra Kanker.

india Updated: Oct 20, 2003 17:16 IST

The Congress seems unfazed over the defection of its senior leader Arvind Netam to Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) in Bastar. The move has hardly affected the tribal Bastar region, which Netam represents.

Reasons: Netam who once a contender for chief ministership of the then newly carved out state of Chhattisgarh, was systematically sidelined from the state Congress politics by chief minister Ajit Jogi.

Jogi instead pampered and encouraged an alternative tribal leadership within the party by promoting young Turks, like Manoj Mandavi and Kawase Lakhma. This move had pushed Netam into oblivion in the region for the last three years. "Netam is virtually a non-entity for us. He was hardly visible in Kanker, his hometown or its neighbouring area since he had rejoined the Congress. His exit now would hardly affect the poll prospects of the party in the coming elections," said Nazir Quraishi, a bookseller of Kanker. However, Sipra Kashyap, a political activist of Bhanupratappur, felt that the Congress would certainly face rough weather in the wake of Netam switching loyalties to the NCP.

Netam was union minister and Lok Sabha member from the region for over two and a half decades. He and his family enjoy considerable clout in Bastar area. His brother Shiv Netam was a minister in the Digvijay Singh cabinet while his wife, Chhabila Devi was a Lok Sabha member in the 90's.

Netam was denied a party ticket in 1996 when his name figured in the controversial Hawala case. Instead, the party nominated his wife to contest Kanker Lok Sabha constituency. He resigned from the Congress and joined the BSP and became its Madhya Pradesh president. He returned to the Congress fold, a few years back, after realising he would not make any political headway in the BSP.

Sipra argued, "Being a peoples' representative for several years, he has his own workers in every village. Besides, the NCP will now have a tribal face with Netam in their ranks. It would give a psychological relief to the NCP, which was being branded as a party of upper castes in tribal Chhattisgarh."

However, Sushil Sharma, the Congress spokesman of Kanker District Congress Committee asserted that the party would not face any difficulty due to Netam's defection. " He is a spent force. If he really matters in the region, why should his brother, Shiv Netam, be defeated by the BJP nominee from Kanker in the last state elections," he quizzed and pointed out that the BJP could win only Kanker Assembly seat from entire Bastar region while all the other eleven Assembly seats were won by Congress candidates. Sharma continued, " Not a single prominent Congress leader or Netam supporters, including his brother, Shiv Netam, have followed the former union minister into the NCP so far.

The Netam phenomenon is purely a media hype." Shiv Netam, the younger brother of Arvind Netam made it clear that he would not follow his brother. " I am a Congress loyalist. I did not even follow my brother when he joined BSP," he said and expressed his willingness to contest elections from Kanker again in the coming Assembly elections.

First Published: Oct 20, 2003 15:32 IST