Mumbai: A former Maharashtra chief minister who once courted as much power as notoriety finds himself trying to make a comeback from the fringes of a political landscape transformed by the Narendra Modi wave, among other factors.
Narayan Rane — a leader of changing stripes who started out with the Shiv Sena, joined the Congress, and is now an ally of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) — is in talks to merge his two-year-old political party, the Maharashtra Swabhiman Paksha (MSP), into the BJP.
While the BJP is not averse to inducting Rane, it is being cautious as any such move may harm the party’s already fragile relationship with the Shiv Sena ahead of the assembly elections later this year. Rane’s “thuggish” image doesn’t help.
Speaking on the sidelines of his ‘Mahajanadesh Yatra’ Saturday, Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis said the BJP’s decision in this regard will depend on discussions with the Shiv Sena.
“Narayan Rane is already with the BJP and is a BJP-nominated MP. On the issue of whether his party is to be merged with the BJP or not, the Shiv Sena is our ally,” he added. “We will take a final decision only after discussing this with the party.”
Rane, meanwhile, is said to be sure of his imminent induction.
According to a source close to Rane, he was expecting to be inducted into the BJP on 1 September in the presence of Union Home Minister Amit Shah, who was in Solapur to address a campaign rally as part of the ‘Mahajanadesh yatra’.
The source added, “From what we have heard from Rane sir, the merger with the BJP should happen within the next fortnight.”
‘There will be a lot of bitterness’
Rane’s bid for induction in the BJP comes two years after he made another attempt at redemption by quitting the Congress and forming the MSP to align with the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA).
At the time, he had told ThePrint, “I have told them (the Bharatiya Janata Party), I am a former CM and I should be given due respect.”
Rane wanted a significant cabinet berth and once again be the towering aggressive voice in state politics that he once was. Instead, the BJP gave him a Rajya Sabha nomination.
A senior Shiv Sena leader and sitting MP said Rane didn’t have “much political scope left”.
“He has secured a position for himself, which is that of a Rajya Sabha MP. But now he is worried about the future of his sons and his hold over his forte in the Konkan region, which is steadily slipping,” the MP added. “But the Shiv Sena cadre as well as leaders will be very upset if that happens.”
“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,” he added.
Rane and the Shiv Sena
Rane joined the Shiv Sena at the age of 16 as a grassroots worker and had stayed with the party for more than four decades, rising to dizzying heights of power and favour with founder Bal Thackeray. He even briefly became the Maharashtra CM 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. Relations between Rane and the Thackerays have been extremely bitter since then.
Bal Thackeray always maintained that it was he who expelled Rane, and heaped criticism on him in the years after he left the Shiv Sena.
In an interview to the party’s mouthpiece, Saamana, in 2006, Thackeray had said, “He (Rane) began his aggression in the bylanes of Chembur (a suburb in northeast Mumbai). It got a platform because of the Sena. I gave shape to his aggression. I made him what he was in the organisation and he accepts that.”
While in the Congress, Rane often publicly criticised the party’s leadership in his quest for a second stint as chief minister, which he never got.
The Congress even suspended Rane in 2008 for his outburst against party president Sonia Gandhi after he lost the race for CM’s post to Ashok Chavan. “I don’t trust even Sonia Gandhi anymore,” he was quoted as saying at the time.
Several of Rane’s former aides such as Ravindra Phatak, Sada Sarvankar and Vinayak Nimhan, who followed in his footsteps and quit the Shiv Sena, eventually left his side and went back to Bal Thackeray’s party.
Meanwhile, Rane’s hold on his home turf of Konkan slipped, mainly due to the Shiv Sena’s belligerent protests backing locals against the proposed Jaitapur nuclear power plant during his stint as the state’s industry minister.
With protests over the Nanar oil refinery in Ratnagiri district, which was proposed under the Fadnavis government, the Shiv Sena solidified its hold on the region, though Rane opposed the project as well (the project will now be moved elsewhere).
Rane also drowned in the 2014 Modi wave, losing his bastion of Kudal in Sindhudurg district to Vaibhav Naik of the Shiv Sena, even as his son Nitesh won the neighbouring Kankavli seat in the assembly election later that year.
According to political analyst Hemant Desai, there are other factors at play as well.
“Rane’s indirect link to a number of local crimes, the thuggery and brashness of his sons with local politicians and government officials…” he said, “All this has impacted the family’s image and left voters disenchanted.”
Even so, he added, while Fadnavis, who is close to the Shiv Sena, and Rane have no love lost for each other, the BJP and the former chief minister both stand to gain from joining hands.
“For Rane, it helps secure his and his sons Nitesh and Nilesh’s political future, and ensure that none of the complaints or allegations against him progress to the stage of active inquiries under the BJP-led government,” he said.
“For the BJP, it is better to induct Rane and make him irrelevant within the party than allowing a dwindling opposition to take advantage of Rane’s potential nuisance value,” he added.