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BJP sends feelers to Narayan Rane to fill Maharashtra vacuum

LiveMint logoLiveMint 04-06-2014 Gyan Varma

New Delhi: With Gopinath Munde’s untimely demise creating a vacuum in the Maharashtra unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the party is looking to wean former chief minister Narayan Rane away from the Congress.

The BJP, whose stakes are high in the forthcoming assembly elections in Maharashtra, is keen on getting a Maratha leader as it currently has only Brahmin leaders at the top. Munde, a leader belonging to other backward class, had helped the BJP shed the image of a Brahmin-Baniya political party and gain wider acceptance.

Rane, a former Shiv Sena member who joined the Congress in 2005, had been in touch with the state party leadership to explore the possibilities of shifting alliance to the BJP, a leader of the party said, requesting anonymity. Munde’s death has made the BJP look for a non-Brahmin mass leader.

“It is not as if Narayan Rane is suddenly talking to BJP after the death of Gopinath Munde. Rane has been in touch with some of the central BJP leaders,” the BJP leader said. However, he was evasive in giving a firm response on whether Rane will be taken into the party. “It is difficult to say whether Narayan Rane will join BJP because the party has a different work culture and Rane may not fit. Rane used to be with Shiv Sena, but he was unhappy and even now when he is in Congress for nearly a decade and minister in government, he is upset because he wants to be the chief minister,” he said.

BJP leaders contacted Rane on Tuesday, another person familiar with the development said, also requesting to remain unnamed.

Rane was not available for comments.

A former chief minister of Maharashtra, Rane has been upset with the national and state leadership of the Congress. He has launched a rebellion against chief minister Prithviraj Chavan. Industry minister in Chavan’s cabinet, Rane had written a letter to Congress president Sonia Gandhi, warning the party leadership that the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance will end the 15-year rule of the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party in Maharashtra in the coming assembly polls.

Rane recently met Gandhi, her political secretary Ahmed Patel and party general secretary Mohan Prakash to complain against Chavan. The BJP-Shiv Sena alliance has done extremely well in Maharashtra, winning 42 of the 48 seats in the state in the just-concluded Lok Sabha elections.

“If you convert this to assembly constituencies, the NDA’s tally will be nearly 240 of 288 seats in the state assembly,” the BJP leader pointed out. NDA stands for the National Democratic Alliance.

But an entry into the BJP may not be easy for Rane, as the Shiv Sena is likely to oppose it, said the BJP leader. “Rane will be looking at the chief ministerial post to which the Shiv Sena will oppose,” he added. Rane had quit the Shiv Sena because he had opposed Uddhav Thackeray’s rise in the party.

“BJP needs Shiv Sena in the state and more so in the Rajya Sabha to get crucial Bills passed. The normal practice between Shiv Sena and BJP has been that whichever party gets more seats in the assembly, decides who will lead the alliance. Since BJP has 46 seats and Shiv Sena 44 seats, the leader of opposition in assembly is with BJP,” the BJP leader said.

A section of the leaders may not like to upset their key ally in Maharashtra. The alliance has recently seen some friction following Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decision to induct just one leader from Shiv Sena in his cabinet. Besides, some Sena leaders have publicly demanded Thackeray be declared as the chief ministerial candidate in the state elections, which are due later this year. The Shiv Sena had contested 160 seats in 2009 while the BJP fielded its candidates in 118 seats.

Political observers following the fast-changing realignment in the state before the crucial assembly elections pointed out that Rane’s inclusion in the BJP will help the NDA because he is a Maratha leader.

“Nitin Gadkari and (state BJP chief) Devendra Fadnavis are both Brahmin leaders. BJP needs a Maratha face, but the problem is that Narayan Rane has only limited influence in Maharashtra. BJP is in need of a genuine mass leader and Narayan Rane cannot replace Gopinath Munde,” said Nitin Vishwanath Birmal, Pune-based coordinator for the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies Lokniti.

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