The ruling BJP appears to be divided over the decision to support Maharashtra Swabhiman Paksha leader Narayan Rane’s candidature for the December 7 byelection to the state Legislative Council. “The party finds itself in a catch-22 situation. It fears that support to Rane would lead to consolidation of anti-BJP forces within Maharashtra. Secondly, it would further create a wedge between the alliance partners, the BJP and the Shiv Sena, in the government, both at the Centre and the state. Thirdly, discontent within the BJP organisation is not being ruled out,”a party source told The Indian Express.
The BJP with 122 seats is the leading party in the 288-seat Legislative Assembly. The Shiv Sena has 63 seats, the Congress has 42 seats and the NCP 41 seats. Smaller parties and Independents together account for 20 seats. MLAs vote and elect the council members.
A political manager in the BJP said: “Our estimate is that Rane will have to mobilise support of seven-eight MLAs outside the BJP, smaller parties and independents, to get an edge over the Shiv Sena-Congress-NCP combine.”
Rane has assured the BJP that there are seven Shiv Sena MLAs who would vote in his favour and Congress tally would go down from 42 to 40 as Nitish Rane (MLA) and Kalidas Kolamkar (MLA) from the party would support Rane.
Notwithstanding the numerical edge that Rane enjoys in the elections against the Congress-NCP and Shiv Sena, it is the political fallout that has got the BJP worried. A BJP insider said: “If the Shiv Sena withdraws support, it would send a negative message ahead of the crucial Gujarat polls. With the state Assembly elections 18 months away, a minority government led by Devendra Fadnavis in Maharashtra does not auger well for the development of the state.”
Secondly, within the BJP, there are apprehensions. A section feels giving strength to Rane by getting him elected to the council and then, his induction in the cabinet would undermine the Maratha leadership within the BJP.
Education Minister Vinod Tawde, Revenue and PWD Minister Chandrakant Patil and state BJP president Raosaheb Danve have been in a race to get ahead of each other for the Maratha leadership in the organisation. Although Fadnavis has said Rane would be inducted in the cabinet, there are issues related to portfolio.
A source in the BJP said: “The most workable option is to award PWD to Rane. Now, it is the portfolio held by Chandrakant Patil, along with the revenue ministry. Patil is not very pleased to give up PWD.”
Sources said efforts are being made to convince Rane to settle for some other portfolio. Admitting the unrest within, a BJP leader said: “Our decision to give consent for Rane’s party in the NDA was keeping in mind the 2019 Assembly and Parliament elections. Our focus would be to consolidate the alliance to make inroads in the Konkan region and to give Shiv Sena tough fight.”