Sattari: At about 10:30 am Wednesday, Pratapsingh Rane, an 11-time legislator, Goa’s longest-serving MLA and six-time former chief minister, was sitting in the foyer of his tastefully done up house. He was about to leave for a visit to a part of his constituency, Poriem, where locals have requested for a new road to be built. His family members urged him to change his formal shoes and wear something that will be more comfortable to walk in. Rane, who turns 83 Friday, steadfastly refused.
After some time, the veteran politician got up, saying he will change his shoes, in a polite-but-firm tone, making it clear that it was his decision.
As Rane’s driver got the car ready for him to leave, Bubbles, his six-year-old cocker spaniel dog, known to be very protective of the senior Congress leader, sprinted to the driveway, making it clear she wanted to tag along. Rane’s wife, Vijayadevi, dismissed the idea and told Bubbles to stay put and get her hair brushed at home, as her morning routine is. A crestfallen Bubbles rushed to Rane’s feet. One look at her, and Rane said in a matter-of-fact tone, “Bubbles will come”. And that was that. Bubbles got her place in the car, where she obediently sat for the entire trip.
To friends, family and supporters who know him closely, this was nothing unusual. Pratapsingh Rane, they say, has always been strong-willed and known for arriving at his own decisions, however big or small.
So on 29 January, when Rane decided to call it a day and not contest the 14 February Goa assembly elections from Poriem, his loyalists knew, like with the change of shoes and taking Bubbles in the car, this decision was Rane’s alone, and once taken, it was binding on all stakeholders, right from his family to his supporters to the Congress party.
The decision came after days of uncertainty and ample speculation in Goa’s political circles about what Rane was planning to do: Whether he would contest, considering the Congress wants him to; whether he might back down, given that his son, Vishwajit Rane, a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) minister, has harshly warned him to “gracefully retire” and that things can otherwise get “very messy;” whether he is under pressure from his son and the latter’s party, the ruling BJP. Vishwajit had defected from the Congress to the BJP in 2017.
“I have spent 50 years in good, clean politics. I don’t need to fight an election to work for people. Being the head of the family, I felt somebody needs to make a mature decision, and I opted to do so,” the senior Rane told ThePrint.
“I have and will always be a staunch Congress worker. I will support whichever candidate the Congress decides to nominate from the constituency,” added Rane, who has represented Poriem in Goa’s lush green Sattari taluka that borders Karnataka since 1972, when the Goa was still a Union territory along with Daman and Diu, and the constituency was known as Sattari.
The battle of the Ranes
Two days before Pratapsingh Rane spelt out his decision to not contest the election, the stress surrounding his probable candidature, especially given his 50-year-old son’s very public views on it, was almost palpable at the Golden Acres Farm at Sanquelim, which is where the Ranes live.
Vijayadevi would diffuse the tension in the air with her sharp humour from time to time, commenting on a particular shade of deep yellow of a house while driving around in the Poriem constituency and stating how holding up her palm (also the Congress symbol) while greeting people has become second nature to her after all these years.
Back home, a few of Rane’s supporters who came to meet him urged Vijayadevi to step in his shoes if her husband was not willing to contest. She shrugged off the suggestions with some humour-laden comments and maintained that whatever it is, it would be her husband’s decision to make.
Had Pratapsingh Rane decided to contest the election, he would have been directly pitted against Vishwajit’s wife Deviya Rane, who the BJP has fielded from Poriem, while Vishwajit contests from his neighbouring constituency of Valpoi. Neither Vishwajit nor Deviya responded to ThePrint’s calls and text messages for a comment.
On Wednesday, Pratapsingh Rane gave a measured response to his daughter-in-law’s decision to contest from his bastion of Poriem. “Everyone is free to contest elections,” he told ThePrint. “The only thing that one should remember is that we should not make false promises to people when we decide to contest.”
Vishwajit Rane, locally known as ‘Baba’ in the constituencies of Poriem and Valpoi, has held the Valpoi constituency for three terms — as an Independent MLA for one term, a Congress MLA for the second term, and a BJP MLA for the third term, having defected after winning the election on a Congress ticket. So, the BJP picking him as its candidate for Valpoi was hardly surprising. The party’s decision to pick Deviya and its justification by Devendra Fadnavis, BJP’s election observer in Goa, had ruffled some feathers and thickened the tension surrounding the senior Rane’s candidature. For starters, the BJP claims that it has a policy of giving tickets to only one member per family.
“Vishwajit Rane has been our sitting MLA. Pratapsingh Rane was a Congress MLA for 50 years. We had never won that seat. We requested him (Pratapsingh Rane) and he has left the seat for us,” Fadnavis told reporters in Delhi earlier this month when the BJP announced its first list of candidates to the 40-member Goa assembly.
The octogenarian Rane had retorted sharply, saying the Poriem seat was not his “father’s property to give away”.
In September, Fadnavis met Pratapsingh Rane at his residence over dinner, fuelling talk of the Congress leader following his son into the BJP. After a few more insinuations by the BJP of Rane possibly jumping ship, the state’s senior-most MLA cleared the air through a video message, saying, “These people just want to spread canards… I belong to the Congress party for over 45 years and I don’t think I would ever, at this juncture, think of leaving the Congress party. I belong to the Indian National Congress and that’s it.”
Speaking to ThePrint Wednesday, Rane reiterated that there was no political discussion with Fadnavis during the latter’s visit to Golden Acres. “My doors are always open. Everyone is welcome to come home. Everyone who comes is offered tea and something to eat. I did the same with Mr Fadnavis.”
“I hope you have been offered some tea. Did you have some tea?” Rane asked ThePrint in his usual gentle demeanour.
A senior Goa Congress leader who did not wish to be named said, “Pratapsingh Rane will never work with the BJP on the sly. We are all confident in that. Fadnavis is making big statements, but he had gone to his house uninvited. Rane’s wife informed him that Devendra Fadnavis has come and he wants to meet. Pratapsingh Rane was initially reluctant to meet him.”
The Congress had left the decision of whether to contest or not to contest solely on Rane. A second party leader from Goa said, “It was a bit of a tight spot for him with this being a family feud. But, Pratapsingh Rane has always been a shrewd politician. He must have made the right calculations in his mind.”
At Poriem, there is one more Rane in the fray — Vishwajeet Krishnarao Rane — who has joined the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) to contest the election from Pratapsingh Rane’s stronghold. Vishwajeet K. Rane is not a member of Pratapsingh Rane’s family, but he is not completely unrelated to him either. This man was Pratapsingh Rane’s election agent many years ago, Vijayadevi told ThePrint.
The Ranes of Sattari
The Ranes of Sattari, chieftains to the Sawant-Bhosales of Sawantwadi till the Portugese conquered large regions of Goa in the 18th century, were among the first revolutionaries in Goa’s liberation from Portuguese rule. The Ranes launched 14 insurrections against Portuguese rulers to get back their lost rights between 1755 and 1822. The ancestral home of the Rane family still stands intact, in pristine condition, five minutes away from their grand residential farmhouse. It was in this ancestral home that Dayanand Bandodkar, Goa’s first CM, first invited Pratapsingh Rane to join politics after the latter had returned to his home town after taking a business administration degree in the United States.
As politicians, the Ranes of Sattari have only strengthened their historic hold over the taluka, which has two assembly constituencies — Poriem and Valpoi. He first became an MLA in 1972, and Goa CM in 1980. Rane was CM even when Goa attained statehood in 1987. He started his political career with Goa’s regional outfit, Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP) and subsequently joined the Congress in the 1970s. He has held multiple cabinet posts throughout his career, served as leader of the opposition on two occasions and as the assembly speaker on two other occasions. One of these two times was when BJP’s Manohar Parrikar was the CM in 2000.
As he rides his SUV in his neighbourhood, Rane proudly gives a tour, pointing out the Goa Institute of Management, of which he is a founding member, and a government college at Sanquelim, prior to which students had to travel nearly 25 kilometres to Mapusa for the nearest government college. “Thirty years ago, I told people in my constituency, every household will have a car. Today, you can see a car parked in front of every house and I have built roads here all the way to Belgaum,” Rane said.
Vishwajit, too, has not lost a single election until now. After winning for the Congress in 2017, he defected to the BJP to help the party boost its numbers and form a government, though the Congress had emerged as the single-largest party. In 2018, he is said to have engineered the defection of two Congress MLAs to the BJP to further cushion the party in the 40-member assembly.
After Manohar Parrikar’s death, Vishwajit Rane was hopeful of getting the CM chair, but the BJP chose Pramod Sawant, a thoroughbred Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) leader who had grown within the BJP cadre.
Sources from across parties, including his home party BJP, have told ThePrint that Vishwajit has gigantic ambitions and is in a hurry to live up to his name, which literally means winning the world. His world is Goa, and the victory, the CM’s post, they say.
In his quest for the same, the junior Rane has also had skirmishes with CM Sawant.
A senior Goa BJP leader who did not wish to be named told ThePrint, “We were sure that Pratapsingh Rane will back down. There were no talks directly with him, but Vishwajit had assured us that this would happen.”
Rodeo rider, jockey, agriculturalist first
On Wednesday, when Pratapsingh Rane was yet to take a final decision on whether to contest, sitting in the foyer lined with teakwood benches and plants, the leader thought aloud about what he will do if he does choose to retire.
“I will travel the world, spend time in Europe. I have many friends there. I will visit museums,” Rane told ThePrint. He pointed to an old photograph of horse racing prominently framed in the foyer, and said that’s him on the Pune racecourse. He reminisced about the days when he was younger and won multiple races at Mumbai’s Mahalaxmi Racecourse and the Pune Turf Club.
“When I was studying in the US, I rode with the cowboys in Texas. I competed in rodeos,” Rane said.
The one reason that he never moved out of Goa over the years after returning from the US was his attachment to his large farm, the many acres of cashew plantations, and his dairy. The Ranes also had a poultry farm, which they have now shut, but there are still many animals on the property.
After a fifty-year-long innings, Rane may have decided to step out of the political race, but from his point of view, there is no identity loss.
“Agriculture is my first love. I was always an agriculturist first and a politician later,” Rane said. “That does not change,” he added.
(Edited by Manoj Ramachandran)