Ever the bridesmaid, never the bride...mumbai Updated: Dec 12, 2017 18:52 IST
Narayan Rane is bound to prove a vexing issue to whichever party he associates with - as he did with both the Shiv Sena and the Congress. There was a time when he was the perfect fit for Bal Thackeray’s nascent party which had dire need for aggressive leaders who could drive some robust fear into the hearts of voters and supporters. But as Thackeray’s influence over his own party waned, and that of Uddhav Thackeray grew, the party began to mould itself in the character of the latter. Uddhav always was less aggressive than Balasaheb and, though combative, his bellicosity was always tempered with civility. Which is what has essentially kept the Sena’s alliance with the BJP afloat, despite much turbulence of recent years.
The Congress was generally quite the reverse - cultivated and urbane most of the time but whenever in combative mode there was none of the goonishness associated with the Shiv Sena (in fact, it employed the Sena for those activities while keeping its own hands clean!). Rane with his rustic aggression was always a misfit in the Congress, and sooner or later he was bound to see he had no place in a party whose leaders were always queasy about handing over the reins in the state to him. So when he started to lose elections on his own home turf, I knew it was a matter of time before Rane would be compelled to quit the party.
To a large extent then, both Ashok Chavan, the state Congress president, and chief minister Devendra Fadnavis are responsible for driving Rane’s back to the wall. Chavan left Rane with no choice but to quit by packing the district Congress committee on Rane’s home turf with people inimical to him. And Fadnavis, through a series of well-executed moves, made Rane’s admission into the BJP quite impossible, compelling him to set up his own party after which he promptly offered support to the BJP, thus weakening his own position and standing.
For, since then, though Fadnavis has been dangling various carrots before Rane, I am not too sure he will allow him even a small piece of the cake. While he is now a bone of contention between the Sena and the BJP - the Sena does not wish him to be made a minister - Rane is of far more use to Fadnavis as a continuing threat against the Sena than as a cabinet colleague. No wonder, even as he told the Sena off on not dictating terms to him, he has shown no signs of expanding his cabinet as promised before the winter session of the legislature. The BJP did not even give Rane the seat he had vacated in the state legislative council in ultimate deference to the Sena’s wishes. But now there is talk that he may be given a seat in the council through the Nashik LSG when election takes place early next year in order to cut down the Sena’s growing influence in the region.
However, the longer the BJP delays accommodating Rane, the lesser he grows in importance and I wonder if this dilly-dallying is deliberate. Fadnavis is not unaware of the flak he will have to face if he now embraces the man he had run a campaign against at the time Rane had joined the Congress. Questions are then likely to be raised if the BJP was then genuinely concerned about probity in public life or if its commitment to political hygiene was subservient to its party, interests.
Already Fadnavis is under considerable pressure for having accommodated people with questionable reputations in his cabinet. In addition, Rane is a former chief minister with enough experience in administration - compared to Fadnavis’s novitiate - and someone who the bureaucrats appreciate for his clarity of action, unlike the CM who is still struggling after three years to get his officers to fall in line. Would Fadnavis appreciate the competition? Quite unlikely.
That, though, has always been Rane’s destiny, dogging him wherever he goes. While with the Shiv Sena, Manohar Joshi outsmarted him in 1999 to stop his return to that august office. He joined the Congress in the hope he will be made CM but the party preferred a series of its own loyalists and Rane had to be content with always being the bridesmaid and never the bride.
Fadnavis is even less likely to allow Rane the privilege of becoming his best man, lest he run away with the bride!