Mumbai: In the 1960s, Narayan Rane, now a Rajya Sabha MP of the BJP, was known as a street thug, part of the ‘Harya-Narya’ gang in Mumbai’s northeastern suburb of Chembur.
On Wednesday, Rane, who has had a six-decade long political career across three parties — the Shiv Sena, Congress and now the BJP — was picked to be a part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s cabinet.
Party insiders say, Rane’s appointment to the Union cabinet will help the BJP in Maharashtra in several ways. A former chief minister, Rane is a prominent leader from the Maratha community at a time when the BJP is targeting the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) in the state for failing to defend the Maratha quota in the Supreme Court. He has a strong presence in Maharashtra’s Konkan region, where the BJP has been historically weak.
Also, being an arch rival of Maharashtra CM Uddhav Thackeray and one of Shiv Sena’s staunchest critics, party leaders believe Rane also has the potential to be of nuisance value to the BJP’s former acrimonious ally.
Moreover, a political rehabilitation for Rane within the BJP was long due.
“Rane is that powerhouse who can galvanise all his strength if given a red light car, a strong post and leadership,” a senior Maharashtra BJP leader said.
The importance of Narayan Rane
Speaking to ThePrint, Vinod Tawde, one of the BJP’s national secretaries, said, “Rane is one of Maharashtra’s most experienced politicians, he is a former CM of the state, so his appointment to the Union cabinet will definitely help the state’s development.”
“Politically, for the BJP, the appointment is helpful because he is a strong Maratha community leader at a time when the Maratha quota issue is burning. He is someone who can take the Shiv Sena head on, that too in the Shiv Sena’s strongholds of Konkan and Mumbai. All this will help the BJP in next year’s civic elections in Mumbai and other parts of the Mumbai Metropolitan Region.”
Over the last two months, the BJP has strongly taken up the Maratha quota issue against the Thackeray-led MVA government after the Supreme Court scrapped the reservation as unconstitutional in May.
In 2014, a non-statutory committee constituted by the erstwhile Congress-NCP government in Maharashtra, had recommended a 16 per cent reservation for Marathas in jobs and education. That committee was headed by Rane, who was back then a Congress leader. He was also part of a group of Maharashtra BJP leaders tasked with touring different districts of the state to interact with local leaders from the Maratha community and prod them to speak up against the MVA government.
Another BJP leader, who did not wish to be named, said that while the BJP has more Maratha faces in Maharashtra such as Chandrakant Patil and Ashish Shelar, their appeal and following is largely restricted to their districts. “Other than Konkan and Mumbai, Rane has a following in districts such as Kolhapur, Sangli, Satara, Pune.”
Prasad Lad, a member of Maharashtra’s legislative council and a BJP functionary who looks after the Konkan region, told ThePrint, “The BJP’s base in Konkan exponentially increased after Rane came on board. From the point of view of social engineering, promoting a Konkan leader to the Union cabinet will appease several communities at once — the Kolis, Kunbis, Marathas. It reiterates the BJP’s commitment to the development of the region and promoting tourism in the coastal belt.”
The BJP has traditionally been weak in the Konkan region, which was always the Shiv Sena’s forte. Rane hails from Kudal in the Sindhudurg district.
Rane’s political rehabilitation
In 2017, when Rane aligned himself with the BJP, he expected to be inducted into the state cabinet under CM Devendra Fadnavis. Speaking to ThePrint at the time, Rane had said, “I am a former CM and I should be given due respect.”
Rane was, however, kept waiting for various reasons, including the Shiv Sena’s stringent opposition to his induction into the BJP-Sena cabinet. The BJP ultimately accommodated him as a Rajya Sabha member in 2018.
“Rane’s inclusion in the Union cabinet puts a brake on speculations about any immediate reconciliation between the Shiv Sena and BJP,” said political commentator Hemant Desai.
Rane was with the Shiv Sena for four decades before he defected to the Congress in 2005. He quit the Congress in 2017 to form his own party, the Maharashtra Swabhiman Paksha, aligning himself with the BJP-led NDA. He eventually merged his party with the BJP in 2019.
While the pugnacious Rane was known to often speak out against his own party’s leadership while in the Shiv Sena and Congress, in BJP, he has fallen into line with the party and refrained from questioning or criticising the leadership so far.
(Edited by Priyanjali Mitra)