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It’s impossible to beat Congress at its own game

“Do you want to meet Madam or not?” Narayan Rane was asked sternly by Sonia’s secretary. “She hasn’t given him an appointment as yet.”

opinion Updated: May 08, 2019 04:49 IST
Some years ago, a senior Congress general secretary narrated to me a story about Narayan Rane that had me in splits. He had been seeking an appointment with then party president Sonia Gandhi for weeks and when he finally got a call at eight in the morning he had to rush to catch a flight from Mumbai to New Delhi to make it on time.(AFP)

Some years ago, a senior Congress general secretary narrated to me a story about Narayan Rane that had me in splits.

He had been seeking an appointment with then party president Sonia Gandhi for weeks and when he finally got a call at eight in the morning he had to rush to catch a flight from Mumbai to New Delhi to make it on time.

When he arrived at 10, Janpath he was startled to see Rane waiting in the outer room of the three-layered process to get to Sonia Gandhi – the reception, the lounge and then Sonia’s office. Rane was a minister, so he asked Sonia’s staff to let him ahead.

“Do you want to meet Madam or not?” he was asked sternly by Sonia’s secretary. “She hasn’t given him an appointment as yet.”

Since he was almost Sonia’s last appointment for the day and a last-minute replacement for a cancellation, he hastened to keep his tryst with his party president. It took him an hour – 30 minutes in the waiting room and 30 minutes in her office. As he began to leave, he was startled to see Rane still waiting at the reception – the last appointment had been called in and he wondered how long the minister would have to wait.

That evening at the Maharashtra Sadan, he was bemused to see Rane surrounded by Marathi journalists recounting to them the wonderful meeting he had had with Sonia Gandhi. “I knew she had not met him but who would contradict him? Madam would never see the Marathi channels and those who would, would never have the guts to cross-check with her or her office.”

Rane boasted about such frequent meetings with Sonia Gandhi in those years – I remember Vilasrao Deshmukh being worried about his rival’s ready access to 10, Janpath when as a chief minister he had to wait weeks and months for his own appointment to come through.

Obviously, Rane wanted to press Sonia Gandhi into making him chief minister (CM) and thought he that could bully the Congress leadership the way he had done Bal Thackeray when he was in the Shiv Sena.

I have it from an insider in Matoshree that for months before he became CM in January 1999, Rane would drop by Thackeray’s residence every evening to ask when he was being made chief minister. Thackeray, sitting by his upstairs window, would cringe every time he saw Rane arriving and ultimately could not stand the badgering any longer. He gave in.

I am still surprised that Rane did not see how his predecessor Manohar Joshi got back at him. Some months after he became CM, BJP general secretary Pramod Mahajan persuaded Thackeray to advance the Maharashtra Assembly elections to take advantage of the split in the Congress. No one expected the Congress to emerge as the single largest party at that election but before it formed a government in alliance with the NCP, Rane desperately tried to put his own numbers together.

But every time Rane broke a couple of MLAs from the other parties to make up his shortfall, Joshi managed to make another couple of legislators disappear overnight. Fed up, the governor invited the Congress and NCP to form the government.

In 2005, with the Shiv Sena-BJP having lost not once but twice in a row, the Congress was Rane’s only alternative. But I am amazed that he did not see how he was being taken for a ride by Congress veterans who promised him that they would replace then CM Vilasrao Deshmukh with him.

Now, the Congress is a party that never rewards its parvenus beyond a point. Had Rane bothered to study the party, he would have known the Congress has never had anyone but a blue-blooded Congressman as CM. Sharad Pawar and Digambar Kamat (of Goa) are seen as exceptions but even they were both Congressmen before one split the party and the other joined the BJP to return to the Congress a few years later.

Rane pitting himself against Ashok Chavan a few years later was once again hoping for the impossible for the same reason.

So if he felt cheated by Congress leaders who promised him the moon, it was, well, just the way the Congress works.

Rane now has written his memoirs (No Holds Barred) to tell it like it is. But Congressmen are unlikely to be surprised or troubled by how their party operates.

First Published: May 08, 2019 04:49 IST