Mumbai: The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) kicked off its campaign Thursday for the 2022 Mumbai civic election with Union Minister and Shiv Sena bete noire, Narayan Rane, calling the party’s founder Bal Thackeray his “mentor” while heaping criticism on the party leadership under Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray.
Rane, Union minister for micro, small and medium enterprises and a former Maharashtra Chief Minister, reached Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji airport Thursday morning where he addressed the crowd and BJP workers waiting to meet him.
He started his ‘Jan Aashirwad Yatra,’ a series of rallies of newly-inducted BJP ministers in the cabinet, from Bandra near Kalanagar, where the Thackeray residence, Matoshree, is located. Here he was welcomed by former Shiv Sena MLA Trupti Sawant, who is now with the BJP. As a Sena candidate, Sawant had trounced Rane in a 2015 bypoll for the Bandra East assembly seat.
Rane’s rally also went to Shivaji Park in Dadar, where he visited Sena founder Bal Thackeray’s memorial — the first time since his death in November 2012.
He also stopped at the Vinayak Damodar Savarkar memorial at Shivaji Park. Speaking to reporters here, Rane said, “I said to Saheb (Bal Thackeray), you should have been here today to give me your blessings. Everything that I have achieved in life is because Saheb shaped me. Even today, had he been here, he would have said, ‘Narayan, may you always get success.’ I know his hand is still on my head blessing me.”
Rane was with the Shiv Sena for four decades before he defected to the Congress in 2005. Relations between Rane and the Thackerays have been extremely bitter ever since.
The Sindhudurg-based leader quit the Congress in 2017 to form his own party, the Maharashtra Swabhiman Paksha, later aligning himself with the BJP-led NDA. He eventually merged his party with the BJP in 2019.
‘Come what may, BJP will win the BMC election’
Addressing the rally, Rane said, “In the last two years, the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government has not shown any development. Like his own name, Uddhav Thackeray is set to destroy Maharashtra too. But, now it is time to remove this government. There will once again be a BJP government in the state.”
The MVA alliance comprises three political parties — the Shiv Sena, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), and the Congress.
“It is my responsibility like it is the responsibility of other BJP leaders such as Devendra Fadnavis and Pravin Darekar that we have to win the Mumbai civic election. The BJP will win the election come what may. The Shiv Sena will have to suffer for its sins over the years,” he said.
The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) election has always been a prestige election for the Shiv Sena having ruled the cash-rich civic body for close to two decades now. In the 2017 elections, the BJP came very close to wresting power from the Shiv Sena, falling just two seats short of the latter’s tally.
The BMC election this year has become an ego battle for both parties, especially after the Shiv Sena walked out of its alliance with the BJP at the state level in 2019 and cobbled together a government with rivals Congress and NCP.
‘Don’t come in my way like a cat’
Prior to Rane’s visit to the Bal Thackeray memorial at Shivaji Park, Shiv Sena Lok Sabha MP Vinayak Raut said Rane had no “moral right” to visit the Sena founder’s memorial and that “Maharashtra has not seen a betrayer like Rane.”
There was, however, no resistance or protest from the Shiv Sena when Rane visited the Thackeray memorial.
Targetting Maharashtra CM Thackeray for Raut’s comments, Rane said, “Say what you want to say directly. Don’t say things through your left and your right. I am known for giving direct answers. Nobody should come in my way like a cat.”
Rane also lashed out at Thackeray for his veiled criticism of the BJP’s Jan Ashirwad yatra. In a statement Wednesday, Thackeray said, “If you cannot become a Covid-19 warrior, then at least don’t be a Covid-19 spreader to invite the third wave.”
Rane said, “We are not indulging in anything political, but simply meeting people. The CM himself has come to power through the back door. He has not been elected by the people. So we don’t need anyone’s sermons.”
Shiv Sena MLC Manisha Kayande told ThePrint the Shiv Sena has already “reduced Rane to dust” in earlier elections — the 2015 Bandra East assembly bypoll, and his son, Nilesh Rane, in the 2019 Lok Sabha election.
“Rane maybe the Union Minister now, but he had occupied the highest post in Maharashtra, that of the CM, only because of Balasaheb…Today, Rane said he owes everything to Balasaheb, but he was the one who backstabbed Balasaheb and disrespected the Thackeray family,” she said.
“As far as the Mumbai civic elections are concerned, the BMC is not his cup of tea. Rane is not going to succeed in his plan,” she added.
(Edited by Paramita Ghosh)