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Three Dalit parties extend support to Congress-NCP in Maharashtra; ex-Shiv Sena MLA joins Congress

Mumbai: In a big boost to the Democratic Front, three Dalit parties on Wednesday joined the ruling alliance in Maharashtra and a former Shiv Sena MLA joined the Congress also.

The Peoples' Republican Party (PRP) led by Dalit leader Jogendra Kawade, a former parliamentarian from Chimur, the Bahujan Republican Ekta Manch (BREM) led by Sulekha Kumbhare, who is also a former minister, and the Republican Party of India-Democratic led by K.T. Kamble joined the alliance.

Meanwhile, former Shiv Sena MLA Yogesh Patil on Wednesday joined Congress in the presence of Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan.

Patil, who had represented the Bhiwandi Assembly constituency, was welcomed into the party fold by Chavan and MPCC chief Manikrao Thakre.

Kawade, who was also a member of the legislative council, had quit in protest against the September 2006 massacre of four members of a poor Dalit family in Khairlanji in Bhandara district.

The three parties were welcomed into the alliance by Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan, state Congress chief Manikrao Thakre, Industry Minister Narayan Rane and city Congress chief Janardhan Chandurkar.

"We have to join hands and strengthen secular forces in the state and hence the PRP decided to support the alliance," Kawade said.

He, however, wondered why the Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh headed by Prakash Ambedkar, the grandson of B.R. Ambedkar, did not support the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party alliance.

Kawade also lashed out at Republican Party of India-A chief Ramdas Athawale for joining the Bharatiya Janata Party-led alliance in the state.

In a veiled attack on Athawale, Kawade said, "How can people who call themselves followers of Babasaheb Ambedkar go with parties which opposed renaming of Marathwada University." He cited late Bal Thackeray's opposition to renaming of the varsity in early 90s.

"These people (Athawale) go along with parties which have the likes of Arun Shourie who insulted Ambedkar in his book," Kawade said. 

"It is now important for all secular forces to come together to keep the communal forces at bay," said Chavan, welcoming the three Dalit leaders.

Kumbhare and Kamble appealed to the people to ensure that there was no split among the "secular votes" in the Lok Sabha elections.

The PRP, BREM and RPI-D are expected to be given a few seats in the assembly elections scheduled for later this year.

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