With the defeat in the Bandra by-poll, the second in six months after the Maharashtra assembly elections debacle, Congress strongman and former chief minister Narayan Rane is facing an uncertain road ahead.
Political analysts feel the Konkan heavyweight may find it difficult to stage a comeback in state politics.
The downslide for Rane – who worked his way up from the bottom as a corporator, minister and subsequently the chief minister, unfazed even after quitting the Sena in 2005 – began with the defeat of his son Nilesh in the Lok Sabha election.
Barely seven months later, Rane was cut to size on his home turf in Kudal, after he lost to Shiv Sena’s Vaibhav Naik in the Assembly polls.
The Bandra loss, however, is more insulting, as the margin of defeat this time has increased to 19,008 votes, from the 10,376 in the assembly election.
Many political analysts believe not all is lost for Rane. Bandra was a tough seat to win, and he can claim credit from the party for taking up the challenge, they said.
“This election was a calculated risk for Rane. The party leadership tried to revitalise workers by fielding him. I think he can now bargain for a greater role in the party,” said Prakash Bal, a political analyst. Rane may also ask for a berth in the legislative council.
The bigger challenge for the Congress, however, is controlling the infighting partially responsible for this defeat. Factions within the party and Rane’s ambitions had led to discontent among several leaders, who did not throw their weight behind Rane.
Soon after filing his nomination for the by-poll, Rane had criticised party leaders in legislature for their weak performance and reiterated his opposition to the appointment of Sanjay Nirupam as the city unit chief of the party. Had he won this election, Rane could have easily staked claim to the leader of opposition post in the Assembly, something which would not have gone well with some Congress leaders. This worked as a major factor against him in the election.
Ashok Chavan, state chief of the Congress, denied there any reason for worry. “It is a one-off defeat and there is no question of demoralisation of the party or Rane. We won more votes from this seat than in the Assembly election. We will continue to expose the cheating of the common man by the BJP-led governments,” he said.
Observers said a major positive the Congress can take away from this election is that Muslim voters, who had veered away to the AIMIM in the Assembly election, have against trusted the party.
Rane is putting up a brave face.
“I take responsibility for my defeat. However, voters have given preference to emotions over development,” he said.