The former chief minister of Maharashtra, Narayan Rane, has been slowly changing his track. In 2017, he founded the Maharashtra Swabhiman Paksha (MSP) after leaving the Congress.
With the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) support, he then became a member of the Rajya Sabha. Recently, his son and former Congress MLA Nitesh Rane joined the BJP and is contesting the state assembly poll from Kankavli in coastal Konkan.
Now, Nitesh says he is not going to criticise the BJP ally, Shiv Sena. ‘I am the BJP-Sena’s official candidate, so why should I attack them,’ he asks. However, his elder brother and former MP Nilesh does not subscribe to his stand.
But Nitesh is firm about not wanting to take on the Sena. ‘Let the Sena attack me, I will not respond,’ he avers. He now wants to work with Shiv Sena leader Aaditya Thackeray for development. What has brought on this sudden change?
In July, he and his supporters were arrested for assaulting an engineer of the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI). In 2010, Chintu Shaikh, a small businessman, who runs a medical store in Vikhroli, filed a first information report against Nitesh Rane for attempted murder.
But the CBI gave him a clean chit. On December 3, 2013, Nitesh was detained by police for allegedly damaging a toll booth and assaulting workers at a toll plaza in Goa. Five years ago, he was in the news for his tweets against PM Narendra Modi and Gujaratis in Mumbai.
On Tuesday, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis is visiting Kankavli and this is when Narayan Rane will formally merge his Paksha with the BJP. The CM’s recent Mahajanadesh Yatra, received a very good response in Kankavli.
After the assembly poll, zilla parishad and grampanchayat elections are scheduled. If Nitesh loses this election, it will be the end of the road for the Ranes.
In the face of opposition from the Sena, the BJP not only allowed Nitesh into its fold, it also gave him a ticket to contest the assembly election.
However, in Kankavli, the Sena has given the AB form to Satish Sawant. In Sawantwadi-Vengurla and Kudal constituencies, Narayan Rane is backing two Independents and the BJP too is with him.
Fadnavis has asked the Ranes to keep their differences with the Sena at bay. For the last 15 years, Narayan Rane has been at war with the Sena and the hostility continues.
Though Nitesh claims that for the development of Sindhudurg, he wants to work with the Sena, differences are evident, especially in Sindhudurg and Ratnagiri, where the Sena has a strong presence.
The Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) have little presence in this area. To serve their mutual interests, the BJP and Rane need each other.
Narayan Rane is a seasoned party-hopper. While in the Sena, in the past, he publicly criticised the then Sena working president, Uddhav Thackeray, and questioned his administrative abilities.
This led to his expulsion from the party on July 3, 2005. Rane then joined Congress and was made the revenue minister of Maharashtra. In the wake of the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, the erstwhile chief minister, Vilasrao Deshmukh, had to step down and was replaced by Ashok Chavan.
Rane was miffed that he was denied the position and protested against the Congress leadership, resulting in his suspension from the party for six years.
Later, he apologised to Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and was re-inducted and made the minister for Industry. On September 21, 2017, Rane voluntarily left the party to float his own party, the Maharashtra Swabhiman Paksha, which failed to take off.
Rane has lost two elections, while his son Nilesh lost the parliamentary election in 2014. Without power, Rane can do nothing, though he has always boasted that he and his family have never been dependent on political positions to sustain their empire.
Sena founder Bal Thackeray had made Rane the CM but regardless, the latter parted with him and made serious allegations against Matoshree.
This is why Sena leaders from Konkan, like MP Vinayak Raut, state minister Deepak Kesarkar, MLA Vaibhav Naik and local Sainiks are against the Ranes. In Sindhudurg and Ratnagiri, there are eight seats, of which the BJP has just one.
It is evident that Rane cannot adjust with any party. But if he wishes to remain afloat in politics and is serious about his sons’ future, he will have to mend his ways and make friends with the Sena. Rane has made continuous personal attacks on Uddhav.
It is said in Marathi, ‘Chukila maafi naahi’ (mistakes cannot be forgiven). But the Tiger too has changed its stripes. Anything can happen in politics, as they say.
Hemant Desai is a senior journalist and political analyst.