Mumbai: The Shiv Sena, which of late has been known to have mellowed down its previously infamous street agitations, hit the roads across Maharashtra Tuesday in protest against Union Minister Narayan Rane’s comments about “slapping” Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray.
During his Jan Ashirwad Yatra Monday, the BJP leader had alleged, “It is shameful that the chief minister does not know the year of independence. He leaned back to enquire about the count of years of independence during his speech,” and said, “Had I been there, I would have given (him) a tight slap”.
The Shiv Sena Tuesday pelted stones at local BJP offices, burnt Rane’s effigies, and carried hoardings slamming him as “kombdi chor” (chicken thief), a snide reference to the poultry shop that Rane, a former Shiv Sainik, ran near the Chembur station in Mumbai about five decades ago, during his early years in politics. Some Shiv Sena workers even carried live chicken to the protests.
Shiv Sena MP Vinayak Raut wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, asking him to immediately dismiss Rane from the Union cabinet. Party leaders filed police complaints, and a Ratnagiri court denied Rane anticipatory bail.
By afternoon, the Ratnagiri Police had arrested Rane from Sangameshwar in the Ratnagiri district, where the BJP leader was leading his ‘Jan Aashirwad’ yatra.
Speaking to the media, Rane commented that what he had said about Thackeray was not a criminal offence. “When BJP leader Prasad Lad said he will break Shiv Sena Bhavan, Uddhav Thackeray had said we will slap him. How is that okay then?” Rane said.
The BJP condemned the police action against Rane, but distanced itself from his remarks about Maharashtra CM Thackeray.
While Rane’s comments had drawn the Shiv Sena’s ire, there is a reason why the party chose to retaliate with not just its entire strength, but also the strength of the state’s official law and order machinery.
There is a special enmity between the Thackeray family and Rane, and it is as old as the Shiv Sena’s “kombdi chor” nickname for him.
Rane, the Shiv Sena and Uddhav Thackeray
Rane’s disenchantment with the Shiv Sena started around the time Uddhav Thackeray’s influence within the party started to grow. Until then, Bal Thackeray’s son, said to be polite and shy, unlike his father, was known more for his backroom management skills than for leading from the front.
“Rane and Uddhav Thackeray always had a sour relationship. Within the Shiv Sena, Rane could never accept Uddhav’s leadership and it ultimately led him to leave the party. Since then, Rane and his sons have often made personal remarks criticising Uddhav Thackeray and his family,” said former journalist and political commentator Hemant Desai.
“The fight today is more Uddhav versus Rane, than Shiv Sena versus BJP. The BJP, which was trying to use Rane to hit out at the Shiv Sena, is now finding itself in a difficult position, disowning Rane’s words about Uddhav Thackeray but still backing the minister,” Desai added.
In the 1960s, before entering politics, Rane was known to be part of the ‘Harya Narya gang’, a street gang operating in the northeastern suburb of Chembur, where he lived. He joined the Shiv Sena in the 1970s and became a shakha pramukh, the head of one of the party’s local administrative units. In the 1980s, he was elected Shiv Sena corporator. The party even recommended that he be made the chairman of the Brihanmumbai Electric Supply & Transport (BEST) undertaking.
In the 1990s, Rane emerged as one of Shiv Sena’s most powerful leaders, making the journey from an MLA to a minister to ultimately the chief minister of the Shiv Sena-BJP government for a brief period between February and October 1999.
“Rane’s success has nothing to do with him. It is all because of the Shiv Sena and Balasaheb’s (Shiv Sena founder Bal Thackeray) blessings. Who is Rane? He was just another employee at the Income Tax department. Now he is powerful and wealthy,” former Shiv Sena MLA Vinod Ghosalkar told ThePrint.
“The Shiv Sena’s culture is different. When Balasaheb blessed someone, the party helped him grow. But, now that you (Rane) have become big, there is a limit to how much you can go on criticising someone who helped you grow.”
‘Nagobacha pillu’ to ‘baby penguin’, the turn to personal rivalry
Desai recalls the first clear instance of Rane snubbing Uddhav Thackeray’s role in the Shiv Sena — it was during the 1999 state elections, when the latter had decided to drop 15 names from an already finalised list of candidates.
“Rane had spoken out against this decision, but the list approved by Uddhav was not altered. These candidates then fought as Independents and 12 of them even won, giving more heft to Rane’s words,” Desai added.
In 2003, when the Shiv Sena passed a resolution to appoint Uddhav Thackeray as the executive president, Rane had personally expressed his displeasure to Bal Thackeray, party sources said. His rumblings within the Shiv Sena only grew, and in 2005, he decided to resign from the party.
“It is not the same Shiv Sena of Balasaheb. Shiv Sainiks do not get love, affection, and trust from you as they used to get from Saheb,” Rane had written to Uddhav Thackeray in his resignation letter.
A day later, Bal Thackeray, addressing a Shiv Sena meeting at Bandra’s Rangsharada auditorium, expelled Rane, who was the leader of the opposition in the assembly at the time, from the party. He said Rane had “betrayed the party”.
“Rane began a show of strength…People were threatened. I cannot tolerate gangsterism in the Sena,” the Sena founder had said.
The same day Rane addressed a press conference, launching a tirade against Uddhav Thackeray, his personal assistant Milind Narvekar, and Shiv Sena leaders such as Subhash Desai. He did not spare Bal Thackeray either. “The love for son has scored above everything else,” Rane had said.
“Balasaheb had given Rane too much freedom. Rane was allowed to control Sindhudurg, choose district presidents, and so on. Uddhavsaheb’s way of working was different. He would look at who was a good karyakarta rather than who was close to Rane. He couldn’t digest that,” said A senior Shiv Sena leader who did not wish to be named.
After Rane’s exit, Shiv Sena leaders often targeted him, criticising him with nicknames that Bal Thackeray himself had popularised for Rane within the party following his expulsion, Nagobacha pillu (a snake’s child) and kombdi chor.
Rane and his sons, Nitesh and Nilesh, too have kept up their criticism of the Thackerays.
In the last two years, the Rane family has slammed Uddhav Thackeray’s son, state cabinet minister Aaditya Thackeray as a “baby penguin”, alleged his role in actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s death, and made statements against Bal Thackeray such as “If people come to know how Thackeray was, they (Thackerays) will be stripped naked”.
Meanwhile, in the fresh Thackeray-Rane skirmish Tuesday, as Shiv Sena workers attacked Rane with the old nickname of “kombdi chor“, Rane’s MLA son Nitesh hit back with a new insult in a tweet terming CM Thackeray “ghar kombda“, a phrase used for someone who sits at home, implying that Thackeray preferred “working from home” to being out on the field.
(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)