For Narayan Rane, the Bandra East bypoll was a chance at redemption. He lost heavily, in the process leaving his future as uncertain as it looked after his defeat in last year’s assembly election from his hometown of Sindhudurg.
The Shiv Sena’s Trupti Sawant, wife of the deceased MLA from the seat, defeated Rane by over 19,000 votes, polling 53,711 votes to his 33,703 votes. The AIMIM was seen as a potential game-changer in a seat with a large Muslim electorate but its candidate, Rehbar Khan, polled only 15,050 votes, which left Sawant with more votes than Rane and Khan combined.
In the other bypoll from Maharashtra, the late R R Patil’s wife Suman won virtually uncontested from Tasgaon. She had a margin over 1.12 lakh votes against the nearest of her eight independent rivals. No political party had fielded a candidate against her as a mark of respect to R R Patil of the NCP.
Rane, 63, had put all he had into the bypoll, fielding his entire team in the constituency. Ostensibly, so did the Congress, going by the number of high-profile leaders it selected for the campaign. However, following the result, a division seemed to show in the Congress with Rane’s loyalists alleging a half-hearted attitude by the party and other Congress leaders saying Rane’s aggressive politics is “not part of Congress culture and not acceptable to the people”.
“It is a fact that the Congress did not work wholeheartedly for Rane,” said an MPCC general secretary who did not wish to be named. “On the contrary, Rane got his own workers from Konkan and Mumbai to campaign for him in Bandra East. Rane was always perceived as a threat to other leaders, such as Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil and Ashok Chavan. His victory would have brought him back into prominence.”
Chavan, newly appointed MPCC president, refused to write Rane off. “A couple of defeats does not undermine anybody’s political future. Rane is an important leader for Congress.”
Rane himself dismissed any significance to the result. “Victory and defeat in elections are part of life. I accept the mandate of the people,” he said. Asked about his future, he retorted, “What I do next in politics is my lookout.”
He was, nevertheless, the central character in the bypoll, not only because it could have allowed him to redeem himself but also because of the constituency. Bandra East includes Matoshree, the Thackeray residence. Rane said Shiv Sena leaders were surviving on public money.
Uddhav Thackeray had made the bypoll a prestige battle. The rivalry between Thackeray and Rane goes back to 2005, when the latter made accusations against Uddhav that led to his expulsion from the Sena. “I attribute the victory to the people,” Uddhav said, then mocked Rane: “When you betray the hand that had once blessed you, this is going to be the outcome.” He was referring to how Bal Thackeray had promoted Rane by and made him chief minister.
The Sena victory came in the face of grumbles within the party that the BJP was not supporting it wholeheartedly. Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis sent a “congratulatory note” to Thackeray from Germany, where he is on tour.