Narayan Rane emerges as unlikely ally for Devendra Fadnavis; bats for BJP's agenda ahead of possible NDA switch

Mumbai: Former Congress leader Narayan Rane seems to have passed the first BJP exam. After the Elphinstone Road stampede which killed 23 people, not even one BJP leader came out in support of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's dream project, the Ahmedabad-Mumbai bullet train. But, without having even joined the NDA, Rane openly supported the bullet train and the development agenda of BJP while also attacking the BJP ally Shiv Sena.

Rane spoke like an NDA ally even without being part of the ruling group. It remains to be seen how much of it will please the top BJP leadership, but Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis can definitely relax as his new friend Rane seems more than willing to take on his opponents in Shiv Sena, Congress, as well as the MNS.

Rane, who resigned from Congress party last month, announced the formation of his political party, Maharashtra Swabhiman Paksha (MSP), on Sunday in Mumbai. He showed several signs of his new political affiliation as he took on Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray, Maharashtra Navnirman Sena chief Raj Thackeray, as well as the Congress.

File image of Narayan Rane. PTI

File image of Narayan Rane. PTI

Speaking at his newly-formed party's first press conference, Rane showed the future course for his party by openly supporting Modi's Bullet train project.

His indiscriminate support for the prime minister despite the anti-bullet train sentiments among Mumbaikars shows that Rane is all set to enter the NDA fold. A close aide of Rane even told Firstpost that after the announcement of MSP, BJP top leadership contacted Rane and asked him to join the NDA. "Rane will make an official announcement of joining the NDA this week," he added.

Apart from the Ahmedabad-Mumbai bullet train, Rane also supported Modi govt's development agenda. "We need development. I always support development work. Twenty years back, when I was in Shiv Sena, we first introduced toll policy. So, due to toll, the state was able to build many chains of roads across the state," he added.

"The bullet train will be seen in next three to four years. It's a good sign. We should welcome the decision rather than oppose it," he said. Some years from now, the bullet train will be a necessity just like mobile phones, he added.

Senior journalist and state political commentator Uday Tanpathak says that with his unequivocal support, Rane may have handed a new tool to the BJP to keep a check on Opposition parties as well as bitter ally Shiv Sena.

"After the Elphinstone Road stampede, no one from BJP even supported the bullet train. Even BJP's partner in state government, the Shiv Sena, is openly opposing the bullet train. So, Rane’s stand indicates that whatever issue the BJP is not willing to openly commenting on, expect Rane to say that. He will speak like their spokesperson," he added.

Congress seems to agree as well. "This is a plan to weaken Shiv Sena. Rane's MSP is actually team B of BJP," Ashok Chavan, senior Congress leader, and former Maharashtra chief minister told Firstpost.

And Rane did just that as he took a jibe at Shiv Sena chief Uddav. "Don’t you (Uddhav) want development? Balasaheb (Thackeray) said a Marathi manoos (man) should be rich at heart. But his (Uddhav’s) heart is rotten," Rane said

However, given the fact that Uddhav's cousin and MNS leader Raj has also opposed the bullet train, it will be interesting to see how Rane will play his role as the unofficial BJP spokesperson.

"I shall not allow even a brick for the bullet train project to be laid. First, resolve all the basic problems of Mumbai commuters, warned MNS chief Raj Thackeray in a press conference. If Modi wants, let him construct it in Gujarat. If they use force, we shall also retaliate forcefully," Raj said on Saturday.

Rane, tough took a hardened stand on MNS chief as well when he said, "His party (MNS) is alive only in newspapers and TV channels news". The real challenge for the former Congress leader would be when MNS sets out on a morcha to the Western Railway headquarters on 5 October.

Despite that, it seems clear that when it comes to the bullet train project, it's going to be Shiv Sena and MNS on one side and BJP and Rane’s MSP on the other.

But, does Rane have the backing to become an effective BJP ally?

Rane had resigned from the Congress and MLC post last month while accusing the party of reneging on the promise to make him a chief minister repeatedly.

Rane had joined Congress in 2005 after leaving Shiv Sena. With Rane, more than 12 sitting MLAs of Shiv Sena and some two dozens corporators had switched loyalty. But after 12 years, not a single MLA is openly supporting Rane. In fact, his younger son and MLA Nitesh Rane as well as a close supporter for two decades MLA Kalidas Kolambkar were also not present with him on the dais.

A prominent leader from the Maratha community, Rane was the chief minister in 1999 while the Shiv Sena was in power. Rane had earlier claimed that more than 25 MLAs from Shiv Sena and Congress would join him in the future at an appropriate time. But after announcing his party, the former Congress leader said:

"After setting up the party organisation, we shall decide on our future course including allying with NDA. I have just launched the party, I am waiting for some people to join, then I will decide the future course," Rane said.

Here, it's important to remember that Rane's decision to launch a new political outfit comes in the backdrop of BJP's cold response to his induction in the party fold. So, if Rane's raised ante against the MNS, Congress and the Shiv Sena may just be a part of new plan to enter the NDA fold (which is also his only option left).

Either way, Fandnavis may as well now relax and let Rane take care of all his opponents be it Shiv Sena, Congress or MNS.

Updated Date: Oct 02, 2017 10:38 AM

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