The speculation that Narayan Rane may join the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) resurfaced on Sunday after state tourism minister and BJP MLA Jaykumar Rawal called on the sulking Congress leader in Ratnagiri. However, the BJP has termed it a “courtesy visit”.
Rane, who had held important portfolios in the previous United Progressive Alliance (UPA) governments, has reportedly been sulking for quite some time. The latest cause for his discontent is said to be keeping him away from the political developments in Goa, where Congress missed the chance to form government despite emerging as the single largest party in the Assembly elections.
Rane senior and his son Nilesh, a former MP, had recently criticised the state unit Congress president Ashok Chavan, questioning his ‘ability’ to lead the party in Maharashtra. Rawal, who was in Ratnagiri on Sunday, met Rane senior at his residence.
When asked whether Rane is joining the BJP, Maharashtra BJP spokesperson Madhu Chavan dismissed the speculation. “Rawal is a tourism minister. He is visiting Ratnagiri as the city is a key tourist destination. Rawal paid only a courtesy visit to Rane as he is a former chief minister as well as a senior leader in Maharashtra. One should not read too much in such meetings,” he said.
Last month, Nilesh had demanded Chavan’s replacement as the Congress state unit chief with some “more capable leader who can lead the party workers in the 2019 Assembly polls”. He also stepped down as the general secretary of the Maharashtra unit of the Congress as a mark of protest against for keeping the post of Ratnagiri district Congress president vacant for the last two years.
However, Rane senior, a former Shiv Sainik, had earlier clarified that he was not going to leave the Congress and had blamed his ‘detractors’ in the party for spreading such rumours. In the recently concluded zilla parishad (ZP) elections, though the BJP made inroads into rural Maharashtra, the Ranes retained their stronghold in Sindhudurg district.
BJP insiders said Rane could prove a ‘prize catch’ for the party, which is desperate to consolidate its position across the state ahead of the next polls. “We hardly have any rural face with a statewide appeal in Maharashtra. If the BJP decides to contest the Lok Sabha elections alone in 2019 (sans Shiv Sena), leaders like Rane would be an asset for the party. Rane is resourceful and could be useful in some neighbouring constituencies for the BJP,” a party functionary said.
According to him, it won’t be surprising if leaders from the Congress, including some from Maharashtra, could be inclined to join the BJP so as to stay close to power.