Former Maharashtra chief minister Narayan Rane met BJP president Amit Shah on Wednesday night, intensifying speculation about his joining hands with the BJP and getting elected to the Upper House in the March 23 Rajya Sabha elections.
Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis was also present at the meeting, held in the national capital. According to sources, Fadnavis has been keen on getting Rane on board, especially with the uncertainty over his party’s relations with ally Shiv Sena.
Rane, a former Congress leader, is considered to have a strong support base in the Konkan region. Sources said the BJP’s central leadership also wants to utilise a veteran like him in the 2019 elections, when the BJP may have to face a tough fight to retain its dominance in Maharashtra. However, with the Shiv Sena and Fadnavis preferring to see Rane in national politics rather than in the state, the BJP wants him to contest Rajya Sabha elections, sources said.
A total of 58 Rajya Sabha seats will be up for polling this month. These will include six seats from Maharashtra, of which the BJP can win three.
Sources in the Shiv Sena told The Indian Express that the party has no issues if the BJP chooses to send Rane to the Rajya Sabha. The Sena had last year threatened to destabilise the coalition government headed by Fadnavis if Rane was inducted into the ministry. The Sena opposition, coupled with resistance to his elevation from within the BJP, blocked Rane’s prospects of getting a state legislative council seat. He then floated a new organisation, Maharashtra Swabhiman Paksh.
Rane is rooted in the Konkan region, which accounts for two Lok Sabha seats — Ratnagiri-Sindhudurg and Raigad — and 12 Assembly constituencies. Both parliamentary seats are currently held by the Sena. In fact, Sena’s Vinayak Raut bagged the Ratnagiri-Sindhudurg seat by defeating Rane’s son, Nilesh, contesting on a Congress ticket. Raigad was won by Sena leader and Union minister Anant Geete. The BJP has to consolidate itself in Sena strongholds, given the latter’s stated position that it will contest the next Lok Sabha and Assembly elections on its own.
Sources in the Sena said they were not worried about Rane joining hands with the BJP after having defeated him and his sons.
The Sena’s bitterness towards Rane goes back a long way. He had parted company with his mentor Bal Thackeray in 2005 to eventually join the Congress amid a lot of acrimony, attributing his exit to his reservations about Uddhav’s ascendance. Sources said that Rane’s presence as a minister in the state would have led to constant fights between the BJP and Sena. However, there will be no such possibility if the BJP brings him to the Rajya Sabha or even makes him a minister at the Centre. “A central minister’s canvas would be the entire country, whereas we are focused only on our turf — Maharashtra,” a source said.
Rane, who had never made a secret of his chief ministerial ambitions, had to reorient his politics. But BJP sources said he had to chose only among the options available to him. Sources also added that for the BJP, there would be another problem — rehabilitation of both sons of Rane, who were active in politics.