Mahesh Vijapurkar

Narayan Rane’s is a strange case of a politician adrift despite having held the top elective post, that of a chief minister. He is unable to fit in in the party, Congress, he had chosen to shift to when he renounced Shiv Sena. And neither is he welcome back into its fold. He left because of Uddhav Thackeray in 2005, and the same Thackeray is leading that party.

He is a maverick, and a no-nonsense man. The Congress which is trying to retain him had once suspended him for protesting Ashok Chavan’s elevation when Vilasrao Deshmukh had to leave the chief minister’s office. After much knee-bending, so uncharacteristic of the man, he was readmitted. He made life difficult for others in the party, and not easy for himself either.

His discomfort has taken him to the doors, or close to it, of the Bharatiya Janata Party but it is not yet ajar. There appears to be a certain reluctance to let him in though the party, purely on what is called ‘elective merit’ – ability to likely win polls – has admitted several with unsavoury backgrounds across the country.

There is a fear among the top tiers of the state level unit of the BJP that once admitted, if admitted, Rane would not keep to the straight and narrow and bide his time for the top job again but create a regular series of ripples. Bal Thackeray replaced Manohar Joshi with Rane but then he lost the party in its election bid in 1999.

Rane is a brash man and minces no word when he decides to speak, and when he left the Sena discomfited with the way Uddhav Thackeray was running it, he said he felt no physical threat, so likely a fate for rebels who confront the top brass and quit. “When in Sena, I ran the street programmes”, he had said.

Neither is he making it easier for himself in the Congress, which in a post-poll alliance with Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) is running a pro-farmer contact programme. He said it is not working well, and nor are the farmers in distress responding to it. He has kept himself away in contempt. He is his own man.

He owes no one any favours, and all that he gained – from a mere sainik on the street to the CM’s post – has been because of his cunning. He had sensed Bal Thackeray’s discomfort with a successful and suave Joshi and made a pitch for it. That’s the only time he may have made a deal.

The irony is as part of his growth, though it is a life of drift now, Rane has built his empire which has clout in the district he hails from – Sindhudurg. So confident a man he generally is that when he quit the Sena, he immediately won the legislative seat in a byelection. He proved his point of being important.

His empire includes not just businesses, but the start of a political family. His one son, Nilesh, went to the 15th Lok Sabha representing the Ratnagiri-Sindhudurg constituency. His other son, Nitesh, is in the state Assembly. The latter runs an NGO which potters around in labour issues and uses the same tone and methods of the Shiv Sena.

To protect his and the family interests, Rane even started a Marathi daily newspaper, Prahar, so indicative of his style of politics. It tries to function professionally, though the venture into television which is a route many politicians and political parties opt for, is nowhere in sight. But his combativeness is always visible.