The 65-year-old Konkan leader’s political journey has been peppered with allegations of criminal wrongdoings against him and his sons.
Mumbai: In the 1960s, former Maharashtra chief minister Narayan Rane, before entering politics with the Shiv Sena, was part of the ‘Harya-Narya’ gang, a street gang operating in Mumbai’s northeastern suburb of Chembur.
From then to now, Rane’s journey in politics—from being a corporator, leader of the opposition, briefly CM and a cabinet minister for the Sena and the Congress, to recently forming his own party—has been peppered with allegations of criminal wrongdoings against him and his sons. The 65-year-old pugnacious leader last month quit the Congress and launched his own party, the Maharashtra Swabhiman Paksha. He decided to join the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) Friday.
Most recently, Rane was battling allegations of money laundering by BJP MP Kirit Somaiya. While Rane was still with the Congress, Somaiya had last year written to Satyabrata Kumar, joint director of the Enforcement Directorate, seeking an investigation into companies run by Rane and his family. The parliamentarian alleged Rane diverted money from tax havens to One Avighna Park, an under-construction luxury residential project in Central Mumbai.
“The original complaint was about a violation of the floor space index (FSI). The Mumbai civic body is looking into it. I sent whatever information I had to the investigating agencies concerned,” Somaiya told ThePrint Monday. “We keep getting several complaints that we look into and send to the respective departments. I haven’t heard about the investigation ever since. It will take its own course with transparency.”
Money laundering, land irregularities
Concerned that the ED probe may be wound up with Rane now having aligned with the NDA, a Mumbai-based activist, Ketan Tirodkar, has filed a PIL with the Bombay High Court asking that the ED be directed to file a status report of the inquiries conducted so far. The petition also asks the court to direct the agency to file the final report in the trial court concerned in reasonable time.
Over two years after the story was published, a spokesperson of the Avighna Group said the ED has not registered any case against Avighna or against Rane, nor has the high court admitted the PIL.
“The allegations about a former Chief Minister investing funds in the Avighna Group are absolutely baseless. Far from the former CM, no politician has ever invested a single rupee in the Avighna Group at any point and my client’s books clearly reflect this,” he said.
“The fact is that neither has the ED even registered a case against my clients or against the former CM, nor has the High Court even admitted the PIL.”
Besides the money laundering charges, Rane is also part of a state government probe into denotification of land by the industries department. The opposition was demanding such a probe against current industries minister, Shiv Sena’s Subhash Desai, for irregularities in the denotification of industrial land in Nashik to favour developers. The Devendra Fadnavis government set up such an inquiry, but expanded its scope to the past 15 years.
Desai had denied any conflict of interest, saying it was the erstwhile Congress-NCP government that started the process of denotifying the large land parcel in the district under former industries ministers Rajendra Darda and Narayan Rane. He added, by the time he took over as industries minister, the land was so fragmented that it was difficult to put it to any industrial use due to which he denotified the remaining land.
The probe is currently in process under retired additional chief secretary K.P. Bakshi.
Criminal cases against Rane & sons
On his election affidavit, Rane, who was a Congress MLC until he quit the party last month, has only one cognisable offence as part of his criminal record. In 2002, former Congress legislator Padmakar Valvi filed a case against Rane, who was then with the Shiv Sena and BJP’s Gopinath Munde, among others, alleging forcible abduction ahead of a trust vote against the then Congress-NCP government. The police filed a chargesheet against Rane and the other accused who were later granted bail.
Like Rane, his sons Nilesh — a former Congress MP and Nitesh, a Congress MLA — have also been no strangers to controversy.
In 2015, Swiss leaks — secret documents from HSBC’s Swiss private banking arm — listed Nilesh and Narayan Rane’s wife Neelam as account holders. Rane denied the claims and maintained that none of his family members had foreign accounts.
Then last year, Nilesh too was accused of kidnapping and beating up a local Congress leader Sandeep Sawant for not attending a rally he had convened as part of the Maratha protests in the state — allegations that Nilesh promptly denied.
In June, TV channels aired a video clip in which Rane’s younger son, Nitesh, was seen speaking to the fisheries commissioner regarding problems faced by fishermen. The video showed the Kankavli legislator lose his cool, pick a fish and hurl it at the senior government official. He was arrested for using force against a public servant and criminal intimidation, among other charges.
Earlier this year, the Mumbai police registered a case against the 35-year-old leader based on the complaint of a restaurant owner in Mumbai’s plush suburb of Juhu for allegedly extorting money. Nitesh, who lives in Juhu, denied the allegations. The Goa Police too has chargesheeted Nitesh in a 2013 case of allegedly vandalising a toll booth in North Goa.
In 2010, Nitesh was charged with attempt to murder after Shamim Shaikh, who was the vice-president of the transport wing of Nitesh’s Swabhimaan Sanghatana, alleged that latter had fired at him in the Swabhimaan office at Khar. However, the CBI, which was probing the matter, was unable to find any evidence or eyewitnesses.
No end to controversies
While the speculation of Narayan Rane joining the BJP was rife, Deepak Kesarkar, a Shiv Sena minister of state in the Fadnavis government, told reporters, “In the entire country, the BJP is known as a party of good people. We don’t want our ally to malign its image by taking in a person who has faced allegations of murder and corruption.” Kesarkar, also a leader from the Konkan belt, is seen as one of Rane’s arch rivals.
A senior BJP minister who did not wish to be named said, “Every time there is a new alliance or a party induction, there are questions of this kind. But, Narayan Rane has previously been with the Shiv Sena as well as with the Congress. It can’t be that he was perfectly clean when he was with them, and now that he has aligned with the BJP, he is not.”
This report has been updated with a response from the Avighna Group