The Assembly bypoll for Bandra (East), where voting was held on Saturday, will determine the political fate of Narayan Rane within the Congress.
Rane (63), who could not realise his barely concealed ambition to become the state chief minister during the previous Congress-NCP government, is currently battling to reassert his identity within his party.
What made matters more complex for Rane was the AICC’s decision to appoint former chief minister Ashok Chavan as the MPCC president. Congress leaders concede that Rane was not very pleased with the decision to bring Chavan in centre stage of Maharashtra politics.
If Rane wins the bypoll, it would give the state Congress an aggressive face to take on the might of BJP and Shiv Sena. Rane’s role as the Opposition leader representing the Shiv Sena is well known. As chief minister (February-October 1999) in Shiv Sena-BJP government and subsequently as revenue and industries minister in Congress -NCP government (2006-2014), Rane is known for his hold in administration.
At present, the Congress’s biggest problem is the lack of aggressive leader in the state Assembly. Both Leader of the Opposition Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil and former chief minister Prithviraj Chavan are known for their moderate image.
According to one AICC functionary, “The decision to allow Rane to contest is double-edged. If he wins, he would reassert his leadership in the state Congress and gradually play more important role in the state legislature and in MPCC. However, if he loses, the onus would be on him for his leadership failure.”
Rane, who joined the Congress in 2005 after being expelled from his parent party Shiv Sena, has often landed himself in trouble with his uncharitable remarks against the Congress leadership.
In 2008, he was suspended from the Congress for adverse comment against AICC leaders following their decision to make Ashok Chavan the chief minister to replace Viklasrao Deshmukh, who was removed following the 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai.
Rane’s defeat in his home turf of Sindhudurg in Konkan in the 2014 Assembly elections had raised questions about his leadership within the Congress. When Rane joined the Congress in 2005, he enjoyed the support of at least 12 MLAs representing Konkan region. He also held considerable clout in Mumbai. Gradually, however, he lost his support base and his own defeat last year came as a serious blow for his leadership claims within the Congress.