Speculations were rife on Thursday over Congress leader and former chief minister Narayan Rane joining the BJP after chief minister Devendra Fadnavis met BJP chief Amit Shah in Ahmedabad late on Wednesday. There were reports that Rane was also present during the meeting that lasted for about an hour, but the former denied that such a meeting took place. Significantly, Rane was also in Ahmedabad on Wednesday and Marathi television news channels showed footage of Fadnavis and Rane travelling together in a vehicle. The channels said the footage was shot outside Shah’s residence in Ahmedabad. Rane, however, said the footage aired by television channels could be doctored or old, adding that he had not left his hotel during his Ahmedabad visit.
He said he was in Ahmedabad for work in connection with a medical college he is starting in Sindhudurg district of Konkan, but did not meet the BJP chief or the CM. He, however, refused to say anything when asked if he would quit the Congress and join the BJP or any other party. “I got an offer from the BJP some time ago, which I neither rejected nor accepted,” he said.
Sources in the BJP said Rane has been talking with BJP leaders about joining the party along with his sons, former Ratnagiri-Sindhudurg MP Nilesh and MLA Nitesh. Rane is a member of the Legislative Council and has two MLAs with him — son Nitesh and close aide Kalidas Kolambkar. Sources said Rane would prefer a ministerial berth in the BJP government in Maharashtra, but Fadnavis is not keen on this. He is also wary of the Enforcement Directorate (ED) probe into money laundering allegations, said sources. BJP MP Kirit Somaiya had, on November 12, 2016, written to Satyabrata Kumar, joint director of ED, seeking an investigation into companies run by Rane and his family.
Rane, a former Shiv Sena chief minister, who crossed over to the Congress in 2005 following a tiff with the Sena leadership, is not happy in the Congress now. For the past few weeks, he and his son Nilesh have been publicly criticising the state Congress leadership. Sources said Rane has been in touch with the BJP leadership. The BJP is keen to get him on-board because it will give the party the strength it needs to counter the Shiv Sena in the Konkan, where the BJP has no standing at present. Konkan has been the Sena’s bastion for the past three decades and Rane is influential in the region.
“Rane would give us extra muscle to deal with the Shiv Sena in Konkan. We have not been able to dominate the coastal region and with Rane coming on board, we can win two assembly seats and have chances to win Ratnagiri-Sindhudurg Lok Sabha seat, which was held by his son earlier and now by the Sena. Further, he can taken on Uddhav in the same language the Sena uses against our leaders,’ said a senior BJP leader who did not want to be named. “However, the problem is, we will end up antagonising the Sena as Rane is Uddhav Thackeray’s enemy number one. Should we do that when Uddhav is mending fences with us is a call the party leadership will take,”added the leader.
Rane on Thursday said he was unhappy with the Congress, even after his meeting with party vice-president Rahul Gandhi. “Our meeting lasted for half-an-hour, but none of my complaints were resolved,” he said. He, however, refused to say if he would stay with the party or join the BJP or another party. Sources in the Congress said Rane wanted to be made state unit president in the run-up to the 2019 elections, which the party leadership is not keen on.
Rane’s elder son and former party MP Nilesh Rane — who quit as Congress’s state general secretary last month — had launched a campaign for the removal of state Congress president Ashok Chavan following the party’s debacle in the recent polls.
A former chief minister from the Konkan, Rane started as a shakha pramukh (local office head) in the Sena and climbed up the ladder. The late Sena chief Bal Thackeray made him chief minister in 1999 during the Sena-BJP government tenure. However, following Uddhav Thackeray’s emergence, Rane defected to the Congress in 2005 with a bunch of MLAs. He was made a minister in successive Congress governments till 2014. However, he was unhappy because he had not been offered the post of chief minister. He lost the 2014 assembly elections while contesting from Kudal in Konkan.
The senior Congress leader is currently under the scanner of the ED following allegations by BJP MP Somaiya. When asked about Rane’s plans to join the BJP, Somaiya said, “I don’t know anything.”
There was no reaction from the Congress on Thursday. Congress state president Ashok Chavan chose not to comment on the issue.