Mumbai: Narayan Rane is taking his battle to the tiger’s den.

For the Congress leader from Maharashtra’s Konkan coast who left the Shiv Sena when he found his wings clipped in 2005, fighting the saffron party in the constituency that houses the home of its patriarch is not merely symbolic; it has far-reaching implications as well.

Rane is the Congress candidate in the 11 April Bandra East assembly constituency by-poll, announced after the death of sitting Sena legislator Prakash alias Bala Sawant.

Rane’s entry into the polls who is trying to prove his relevance in the state politics has obviously made the contest high profile one but for an ordinary Sainik (Shiv Sena worker) it is not battle for any other seat but the battle for the Matoshree and this fact has made the 11 April assembly by-poll much more intriguing.

The Matoshree is a bungalow in Bandra East’s Kalanagar colony, home to Thackeray since late 1960s built by party’s founder and former Sena supremo Bal Thackeray where he lived till his death 2012.

Dislike for Rane, runs deep in the Shiv Sena. On 27 October, Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray had presented the party’s middle rung office-bearer Arvind Bhosale footwear made of gold. A strange way of felicitating someone perhaps, but not for Bhosale who had vowed not to wear ‘chappals’ until Rane was defeated in elections. Bhosale kept his promise for nine years.

Shiv Sena has seen the departure of many stalwarts, right from the party’s founding member Hemchandra Gupte in the late seventies to former deputy chief minister Chhagan Bhujbal and even Uddhav Thackeray’s cousin and chief of Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) Raj Thackeray, but organisationally Shiv Sena has never suffered a setback. Even though many editorials and op-ed page articles have been written about its imminent demise as a political force especially after Rane and Raj Thackeray’s exit in quick succession in 2005 and 2006, the party continues to be a force to reckon with because of the unquestioning loyalty of party workers to founder Bal Thackeray and his heirs.

Rane, who is former Sainik himself, obviously knows all these facts but despite this he decided to take a plunge as it is going to be his final electoral battle now that Rane is in his mid-sixties. But a spirited fight by Shiv Sena workers, who are now in power in the state is not the only headache, Rane will also have to deal with the emergence of All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul Muslimeen or MIM.

The Bandra East constituency has a Muslim population of around 30% and during 2014 assembly elections MIM’s candidate secured over 23,000 votes and was in the third spot. In fact, Congress was relegated to the fifth spot during last assembly elections in this constituency.

However, Rane can find solace from the fact that, this time around Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) candidate is not in the fray. BJP had secured the second spot with the help of north Indian votes in the constituency. Sena with its anti-migrant image can’t hope to get a sizeable chunk of votes from this community.

Whatever might be the result of the 11 April by-poll, it will have long term impact on the state’s politics. If Sena wins, it will prove that no one can take the party lightly especially in Mumbai even though BJP may have managed to win almost double the number of seats than the Shiv Sena in the assembly. The BJP and Shiv Sena’s strength in the state assembly is 122 and 63 legislators, respectively.

However if Rane wins, it will be a warning for the Shiv Sena for the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) elections which are scheduled for early 2017 and has been ruled by Sena for close to 25 years. The message for Sena will be it can’t take Mumbaikars for granted and will have to show visible change in functioning of MCGM over next two years.

If Rane gets elected, Congress will have an aggressive face in the state assembly to take on the BJP-Sena government. The performance of the Congress party in the state legislature so far has been the lacklustre at best.

But Rane’s win will have most visible impact on the internal dynamics of the state Congress. Rane who always felt that Congress high command never gave him his due as he was denied the post of chief minister and state Congress president, will force party high command to change the leader of opposition in the assembly. Currently, the mild mannered Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil is the leader of opposition in the assembly. He also won’t hesitate to battle state Congress president Ashok Chavan for the numero uno position in the state unit.

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