Mumbai: For relentless rebel Narayan Rane, ambition never dies. The one-time Shiv Sena chief minister of Maharashtra, who moved to Congress in 2005 but has never been content there, is ready to move again. Ending months of speculation, Rane will make his next move on Thursday, either to form a new political party, or join an existing one.
On Monday, after a big public meeting at Kudal in the coastal Konkan region, the senior Congress leader said he will meet reporters on 21 September to reveal his plan of action.
Rane, 65, has been on a collision course with the Congress party, in particular state Congress chief and former chief minister Ashok Chavan. He was furious when the state Congress committee under Chavan last week dissolved the Sindhudurg district Congress committee which had office-bearers close to Rane and appointed a new committee headed by workers close to Chavan.
On Monday, he alleged Chavan was “out to finish the Congress party" in the state and raised questions over Chavan’s ability to lead the Congress even in his home district of Nanded. Rane also announced formation of a new front to contest gram panchayat elections to show his strength in Konkan.
When the Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) combine last ruled the state, Rane was Maharashtra chief minister for a brief period—from February to October 1999. He was sacked by Shiv Sena founder late Balasaheb Thackeray in 2005 when Rane publicly criticized the leadership of his son Uddhav Thackeray.
Rane later served as revenue and industry minister in the Congress-NCP (Nationalist Congress Party) government. In the 2014 state assembly polls, Rane lost to Shiv Sena from Kudal. He again lost to Shiv Sena in an assembly bypoll from Bandra in Mumbai in 2015, and got elected to the Maharashtra legislative council in June 2016. Since 2005, Rane has on several occasions publicly criticized Congress leaders in the state.
Speculation about Rane and his two sons joining the BJP have been circulating since he was rumoured to have met BJP president Amit Shah along with Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis in Ahmedabad in April.
Though Rane denied he met Shah, several BJP functionaries have in the last few months spoken publicly about Rane being welcome to join the BJP. The aggressive Congress leader from the Konkan region has publicly praised Fadnavis and Prime Minister Narendra Modi on at least two occasions.
A senior BJP leader in state, who did not want to be identified, said the party was confronted with two “issues" regarding Rane’s entry. “First is his mercurial temper and demonstrated failure to accommodate his ego in the larger scheme of things. Second is his insistence that along with him, his sons also be accommodated suitably," the BJP leader said. He pointed out that Rane has had similar “ego problems" with his previous party Shiv Sena’s executive president Uddhav Thackeray and later the Congress party.
The BJP is also worried about the “reputational risks" associated with the images of Rane’s sons, this leader said. Elder son Nilesh, 36, was a Congress MP from 2009 to 2014 from Ratnagiri, but lost to Shiv Sena’s Vinayak Raut in 2014. Rane’s younger son Nitesh, 35, is a Congress legislator from Kankavli in Konkan. Both have regularly featured in unsavoury controversies and the BJP is not sure if it could restrain them once they are in. Also, Nilesh Rane would expect a BJP ticket from Ratnagiri in 2019 polls which the party was not in a position to commit at this stage, the BJP leader said.
Another BJP functionary, who requested anonymity, said there was a section in the state BJP, which he said included Fadnavis, which felt the BJP needed to be sensitive to its ally Shiv Sena. “When Rane left Shiv Sena, he was very bitter and vocal against Uddhav Thackeray. Though we have our issues with Shiv Sena and Thackeray, inducting Rane may look like a bad alliance etiquette," this functionary said.
Both BJP functionaries agreed that Rane will have to be made a state cabinet minister if he joined the BJP. Last week, Fadnavis indicated that there may be a cabinet reshuffle after Diwali.