BMC elections: Narayan Rane’s offensive against Sena can cut both ways for BJP

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Updated: September 01, 2021 12:55 PM

Having been associated with Shiv Sena and Congress for a fairly good tenure, Rane understands Maharashtra politics deeply and knows well what to speak and when.

The 'Jan Ashirward Yatra' which was otherwise running ordinarily, took a brief halt, but gained widespread publicity due to Narayan Rane remarks made during one of the programmes.

Minister of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises Narayan Rane concluded his ‘Jan Ashirwad Yatra’ on Monday in Sindhudurg of Maharashtra. Rane, who started his ‘Jan Ashirwad Yatra’ on August 20, had to postpone his tour for two days following his arrest in an FIR over his remarks targeting Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray. Rane had hit out at Thackeray, saying that he would have slapped the CM for the latter’s ignorance about India’s year of Independence. His remarks sparked massive outrage from the Shiv Sena workers who even lodged an FIR against him in Ratnagiri. The ‘Jan Ashirward Yatra’ which was otherwise running ordinarily, took a brief halt, but gained widespread publicity due to his remarks made during one of the programmes.

Having been associated with Shiv Sena and Congress for a fairly good tenure, Rane understands Maharashtra politics deeply and knows well what to speak and when. In Maharashtra, where the BJP is in opposition and Shiv Sena is the ruling party, his comments were expected to spark outrage among Shiv Sainiks, and it did. This gave Rane the desired platform to reach out to a wider audience which he may not have achieved by following the general schedule of ‘Jan Ashirwad Yatra’. He made the headlines, so did the ‘Jan Ashirwad Yatra’. The incident saw BJP cadre solidify behind their leader.

A senior academician from Maharashtra who keeps a close track of state politics said on the condition of anonymity that the move may go against the government (Shiv Sena). “The arrest (of Rane) was unnecessary. It was quite an immature move. Even previously they went on a similar adventure, the court had rapped the government like in the case of Arnab Goswami. The arrest has given additional publicity to Narayan Rane, something he never would have otherwise. It has aided Narayan Rane in one way…This may go against Shiv Sena particularly because the BMC elections are coming next year. There are a lot of things piling up in Mumbai. There is some discontent which you can see not only due to COVID mismanagement but also about various infrastructure projects like the Metro which have been affected by the government’s stand. The matter is now in court and the line has been delayed. So, the Rane episode was quite avoidable and it may go against them (Shiv Sena),” the Professor told Financialexpress.com.

Sangit Kumar Ragi, Professor and Head, Department of Political Science at Delhi University, said that it’s difficult to say who will benefit the most from the Rane episode as he has a history of animosity with the Shiv Sena.

“I personally think that it (Rane episode) is not going to make much difference in BMC Election. As far as his arrest is concerned it will work against Sena. His political influence mostly remains limited to the Konkan region and that too particularly one district. Certainly, he is the one who played a significant role in expanding the social base of Shiv Sena in its formative age. If you look at 90s, he was crucial in the growth of Shiv Sena. He cannot influence the BMC polls,” said Ragi.

Ragi said that Shiv Sena cherished extreme form of Hindutva ideology that may help it counter the BJP. “Remember, Shiv Sena cherished Hindutva ideology in its extreme form and has its own cadre. In fact, Shiv Sena in condensing with the BJP, which earlier used to play over the issue of Marathi identity often used against north Indians, can now utilize Hindutva as well. In fact, Shiv Sena had championed the cause of Ram Mandir and it contributed to the growth of Shiv Sena. Shiv Sainiks disgruntled at the diluted ideology of Hindutva may support Rane but how much is a question to be seen,” said Ragi.

The DU professor said that by joining the coalition government with the Congress-NCP and utterances by its spokesperson in tune with the Congress has baffled thousands of Shiv Sena’s cadres. “Rane might be targeting them. Whether he succeeds or not only time will tell,” he said.

Notably, the rivalry between Narayan Rane and Shiv Sena dates back to 2005. It may be recalled that Rane was made CM of Maharashtra by Shiv Sena in 1999 after then CM Manohar Joshi had stepped down. Though he remained CM for less than a year, he gained a strong political stature after that. Rane first voiced dissent against Uddhav in 2005 when he realised that Uddhav is a direct threat and competitor to his Chief Ministerial ambition. Rane revolted and took along a dozen MLA to join the Congress where he was rewarded with a ministerial berth in the Vilasrao Deshmukh-led government. Rane’s fallout with the Congress came in 2017 when he floated his party, only to later merge it with the BJP. When Rane joined the BJP in 2019, he was keen on getting a ministerial berth in Devendra Fadnavis’s cabinet. However, strong opposition from Uddhav Thackeray threw cold water on his plans. With the Sena parting ways with the BJP after the 2019 assembly polls, the BJP made Rane a union minister to counter the Shiv Sena in Mumbai and the Konkan region.

Aiding the fresh controversy, Shiv Sena leader and Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Raut criticised Rane and his two sons (Nitesh and Nilesh). Raut said that Rane’s sons are damaging the union minister’s political career by using foul language against Shiv Sena leaders. Rane hit back saying that Raut is leading Shiv Sena to decline.

While Rane’s remark helped the BJP get wider publicity ahead of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation election 2022, it also ignited the Shiv Sainiks, the majority of whom were virtually hibernating as it’s their party in power and aggressive activism may work as fodder for the opposition BJP. Thus, while the BJP achieved the goals of galvanising its vote bank through ‘Jan Ashirwad Yatra’, it also ended up providing momentum to the Shiv Sena workers. With the political battle set to intensify between the two parties, the elections to the BMC will be a litmus test for the friends-turned-foes to gain control over the richest civic body in India.

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