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Thursday, January 27, 2022

Rane versus Rane: All eyes in Goa on an unlikely poll duel

If Congress veteran Pratapsingh Rane, a 6-time CM and 11-time MLA, and his son Vishwajit, a BJP minister, face off in Rane’s decades-old bastion Poriem in the 14 February Assembly elections, it will mark another interesting chapter in Goa’s fascinating electoral history

Written by MAYURA JANWALKAR | Panaji |
Updated: January 9, 2022 7:30:21 pm
Vishwajit Rane (File); Pratapsingh Rane (Facebook @Pramod Sawant)

Both the ruling BJP and the principal Opposition Congress in Goa are keenly watching veteran leader Pratapsingh Rane’s moves as the coastal state heads for the Assembly polls.

The 11-time MLA and 6-time chief minister, Rane has added several firsts to his name in the course of his remarkable political career. He is Goa’s seniormost legislator. He is also the state’s longest-serving chief minister. And he has now completed 50 years as an MLA without losing a single election ever.

Rane has to take a call now that might have a crucial bearing on the prospects of the two leading contenders in the 14 February elections to the 40-member Goa Assembly.

His party, the Congress, which has been reeling under desertions and is now down to 2 MLAs from its single largest party tally of 17 secured in the 2017 polls, has already declared Rane’s candidature from his bastion, Poriem Assembly constituency in North Goa’s lush Sattari taluka, which they have not lost in 45 years.

What created a stir then was his son Vishwajit Rane’s announcement that he will throw his hat into the ring in Poriem. A four-time MLA from the neighbouring Valpoi constituency in Sattari, Vishwajit is currently state health minister in the BJP government.

Vehemently opposing the idea of his father contesting yet another election, Vishwajit insisted that the senior Rane must “gracefully retire” after completing 50 years as a legislator. Otherwise, he said, he will take on his father in Poriem in an electoral duel unlike any that Goa has seen, while claiming that he will clinch it for the BJP with a comfortable margin.

Eager to bag a seat that it has never won, the BJP has been sending out signals that it is waiting for Rane’s “blessing” for his son in the form of the Poriem seat.

On his part, Rane has not taken a clear stand on the issue so far, thereby fuelling the uncertainty over his Poriem plan. Meanwhile, in an unprecedented move, the Pramod Sawant-led BJP government granted the “life-long Cabinet minister status” to Rane for completing 50 years as an MLA.

The Congress stalwart will soon turn 83. At the time Goa was liberated from the Portuguese rule in 1961, Rane was pursuing a management degree in the US. After he returned to Goa, Dayanand Bandodkar, the first chief minister of liberated Goa and founder of the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP), invited him to join his party — and thus began his public life.

Rane was first elected as an MLA in the third Legislative Assembly of Goa, Daman and Diu in 1972 on the MGP ticket.

He later joined the Congress and was appointed as the Goa CM in 1980, which was followed by five other stints as the CM. He served twice as the Speaker of the Goa Assembly and twice as the Leader of the Opposition.

Significantly, even during the chief ministership of BJP stalwart late Manohar Parrikar in 2000, Rane, despite belonging to the Congress, served as the Assembly Speaker.

Rane is respected as an “elder statesman” in political circles across party lines in Goa. He has been elected from the Poriem constituency continuously since 1987 after Goa was granted statehood. Prior to that, he represented the Sattari constituency in the erstwhile Goa, Daman and Diu Assembly.

It was during Rane’s chief ministership that Goa hosted the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in 1983 that brought global attention to Goa, which was then a Union Territory (UT). The CHOGM was a marquee event convened by then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi that entailed a two-day retreat for 46 Heads of Government in Goa.

With Rane at the helm, Goa transitioned from being a UT to a state in 1987. In 1996, when Rane was again the CM, he brought the amended Goa public gambling legislation that cleared the decks for offshore casinos in the state. Before this measure, the casinos were permitted only in five star hotels in Goa.

A passionate agriculturalist, Rane is deeply connected with his farm, his cashew plantations, his cattle, chickens and dogs. His family members say he prefers to introduce himself as a farmer rather than a politician. His attachment to his farm in Sattari is said to be among the reasons he remained involved in state politics and did not shift to national politics so as to ensure his continued stay in Goa.

An equestrian sportsman, Rane had participated in amateur horse-races in Mumbai and Pune and had even done horse riding with the cowboys of Texas. In his student days he was also a three-time boxing champion in the Pune University.

Following in his father’s footsteps, Vishwajit, 50, joined politics and got elected as a legislator. He has also not lost any election so far since he first won the Valpoi seat as a Congress candidate in 2007. He won two subsequent polls from the constituency. But upset over the Congress’s failure in forming its government despite emerging as the single largest party in the 2017 Goa polls, he quit the Congress and switched to the BJP. He then won the Valpoi bypoll by a huge margin on the BJP ticket and became a minister.

Vishwajit had also served as health minister in the Congress government in 2007 and has been handling this portfolio in the BJP government since 2017 — first in the Parrikar-led Cabinet and subsequently in the Sawant-led ministry.

That he has been an aspirant for the chief ministerial position was apparent when his name also did the rounds among the “front-runners” as Parrikar’s heath started to deteriorate in 2018.

Unlike his father, however, Vishwajit has been at the centre of various controversies. During the second wave of the Covid pandemic, he stirred up a storm as the health minister when he claimed, on May 11, 2021, that 26 Covid patients had died in the Goa Medical College in the early hours of the day when the supply of oxygen was interrupted. That was also the day Goa recorded its single-day highest mortality count of 75. At the peak of this wave, his “differences” with CM Sawant had made waves even as the state was reeling under the pandemic amid a shortage of oxygen.

A badminton player, Vishwajit is like his father in some ways, but he is different from his father’s mild-mannered and measured approach. Vishwajit does not appear to mince words. He has also been seen on camera getting involved in heated exchanges.

Their ancestry, Pratapsingh Rane says, could be traced to the Ranas of Rajasthan. “When the Ranas of Rajasthan came to Maharashtra and Goa, they became Rane,” he said.

But much before senior Rane’s political journey began, the Ranes of Sattari were among the first revolutionaries in the struggle for Goa’s liberation from the Portuguese rule. Between 1755 and 1822, they had launched 14 insurrections in order to secure their lost rights from the Portuguese rulers.

Rooted in Goa’s history, the Rane father-son duo have made the Sattari belt their political fiefdom over the last several decades despite belonging to rival parties now. If they face off in Poriem in the upcoming polls, it will mark another interesting chapter in Goa’s fascinating electoral history.

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