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Narayan Rane — the one prickly issue between BJP & Shiv Sena that’s unlikely to be resolved

BJP is banking on Rane, a former Sainik, and his aides to make inroads in Sindhudurg district but that has angered Shiv Sena, which holds sway there.

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Mumbai: The routinely warring allies in Maharashtra, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Shiv Sena, appear to have ironed out most of their differences ahead of assembly elections in the state barring one — Narayan Rane and his affiliates.

Rane, a former Maharashtra chief minister, 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, and has now aligned himself with the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA). He is currently a Rajya Sabha MP on a BJP nomination and has been hoping to merge his fledgling outfit with the party.

The Shiv Sena, however, wants nothing to do with Rane, as his defection was acrimonious — he walked out with a dozen Sena legislators after friction with current party chief Uddhav Thackeray. Relations between Rane and the Thackerays have been extremely bitter ever since.

The BJP, however, is banking on the former chief minister to make inroads in Konkan’s Sindhudurg district, Rane home turf, where the party is traditionally on a weak wicket.

That has pitted the two allies against each other, either directly or indirectly, in all the three assembly constituencies in Sindhudurg. The BJP is supporting Rane’s associates, while the Shiv Sena, strongly against Rane, has its own candidates.


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The Sindhudurg constituencies

Last month, while the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance was still in the works, a Shiv Sena MP who did not wish to be named, had told ThePrint, “We have to ultimately contest as an alliance and if Rane’s sons get BJP tickets from Konkan, there will be a lot of bitterness on the ground.”

Now with the election a fortnight away on 21 October, this is exactly what has happened.

Of the three seats of coastal Sindhudurg — Kudal, Sawantwadi and Kankavli — the BJP got Kankavli as part of its quota in the alliance. The party has, however, fielded Rane’s son, Nitesh Rane, despite the Shiv Sena’s opposition to the move.

Angered by the BJP’s decision to field Nitesh, who had won the Kankavli seat in 2014 on a Congress ticket, the Shiv Sena has officially put up its own candidate, Satish Sawant, effectively against the BJP.

The acerbity in Kankavli has now spilled over to the other two constituencies of the district, with local BJP leaders supporting Independent candidates. The local BJP is backing former Rane aide, Rajan Teli, against the Shiv Sena’s Deepak Kesarkar, who was a minister of state in the Fadnavis government, at Sawantwadi.

At Kudal, the BJP had decided to rally behind Devdatta Samant, an associate of Rane, against Shiv Sena’s Vaibhav Naik. But after Samant’s nomination was rejected, Rane decided to field Ranjit Desai, a Maharashtra Swabhiman Paksha leader, as an Independent with the support of the local BJP cadre.


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‘Against alliance dharma’

The bitterness in the Konkan now has both parties accusing each other of violating ‘alliance dharma‘.

“The Maharashtra Swabhiman Paksha has declared itself to be an NDA ally. Then how can the BJP allow the party to field candidates against the alliance’s official candidate? This is against the alliance dharma,” said Shiv Sena’s Vinayak Raut, the MP from the Ratnagiri-Sindhudurg parliamentary constituency.

“With regards to Kankavli, we had informed the BJP that we will not campaign for any member of the Rane family considering the way he has behaved with Balasaheb Thackeray in the past,” Raut said.

Shiv Sena leaders from the region, including Raut, maintain that their fight in Sindhudurg is not against the BJP, but against the Rane family.

“The fight is against the hooliganism of Rane and his two sons in the district. Rane’s son has taken potshots at Prime Minister Narendra Modi too that were in extremely bad taste,” Shiv Sena’s Kesarkar said. “Political agenda may be one thing, but what about the morality of having someone like Rane on board? People have dismissed Rane. I don’t understand why the BJP is still lobbying for him.”

The BJP is standing firm, for now at least.

“It is the Shiv Sena that did not follow the alliance dharma. There is a definite strain here between the two parties, but we are looking at it as a friendly fight,” said Pramod Jathar, district president of the BJP’s Sindhudurg unit and former MLA from Kankavli.

“Between Sindhudurg and Ratnagiri districts in Konkan, there are eight seats of which the BJP has just one. Yet, the Shiv Sena tells us not to field Rane’s son. Why? Is he from Pakistan?” he added.

“Instead they should welcome the fact that Narayan Rane and his associates are willing to change their ideology,” he added.


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The Rane factor

While the BJP has grown aggressively across Maharashtra, it hasn’t been able to root itself in the Konkan region, where the Shiv Sena holds sway.

The bellicose Rane had a significant influence in the Konkan belt but though his grip on the region has loosened — he lost his Kudal seat to the Shiv Sena in the 2014 assembly polls — political watchers say his support may still help create space for the BJP in the region.

For the Shiv Sena, Rane is a bete noir.

Rane joined the Shiv Sena at the age of 16 as a grassroots worker and had stayed with the party for over four decades, rising to dizzying heights of power and favour with party founder Bal Thackeray. He even briefly served as the Maharashtra chief minister in 1999.

He walked out in 2005, switching to the Congress along with a dozen Sena legislators after friction with Thackeray’s political heir Uddhav Thackeray.


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