The BJP had given Narayan Rane the task to damage the Shiv Sena in the ‘mini-Assembly’ elections.

 

New Delhi: The fight between the Shiv Sena and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is likely to intensify in the run-up to the Municipal Corporation elections due in February 2022 which had also been termed as “Mini-Assembly” elections in Maharashtra. The recent episode in which Union Minister Narayan Rane was arrested by the Shiv Sena-led Maharashtra government for the controversial statement that he would have slapped the state’s Chief Minister and Shiv Sena supremo Uddhav Thackeray for “not knowing the year of India’s Independence” and the subsequent large-scale protests and FIRs filed against him, has given the Shiv Sena and the BJP a fresh issue before the civic body polls as both parties mobilised their workers across the state and showed their strength by conducting protests. It is clear that the BJP had elevated Rane and had directed him to take on the Shiv Sena through his Jan Ashirwad Yatra in the run-up to the crucial municipal election. The idea behind this move was to strengthen the BJP’s foothold in the Mumbai-Konkan region and dislodge the Shiv Sena in its strongholds, including the Sena-controlled Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC).

The BMC is the largest corporation in the country with an annual budget of over Rs 35,000 crore and has been single-handedly run by the Shiv Sena for over three decades since 1989. In the 2017 BMC polls, Shiv Sena and the BJP, who were alliance partners in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), had contested against each other with Shiv Sena winning 84 seats and the BJP winning 82 seats. The Shiv Sena formed a government with the help of independents.

Divesh Thakur, a Mumbai based political analyst, said: “Nobody knows Shiv Sena better than Narayan Rane in the BJP, that’s why the party had deputed him to take on the Shiv Sena head-on in the Mumbai-Konkan belt which is the epicenter of Shiv Sena’s politics. If the BJP defeats them here, the game of the Shiv Sena is over. Out of the party’s 56 MLAs, 29 are from this belt. But, we cannot rule out the negative side of this move; on the one hand, it may help the party in the BMC elections, but the cadre and the state leadership of the BJP may get threatened by the move as they see Narayan Rane as a opportunist who is in the BJP only for power and hence work against him.” Narayan Rane, who had been recently inducted in the central cabinet, kicked off his Jan Ashirwad Yatra by paying tribute to Bal Thackary in Shivaji Park and asserted that the BJP would win the BMC elections due in February next year. He said, “BJP will return to power. We will ensure the end of three decades of Shiv Sena regime in BMC.”

Ramesh Agarkar, a lecturer of political science under Mumbai University, said: “Rane is the choice of the central leadership; many believe that his era is over in Konkan, the BJP had given him the task to damage the Shiv Sena in the BMC polls. But, the Shiv Sena is ready to counter him. If you read the statements of Shiv Sena leaders, they are of the opinion that Rane will help the Sena to energise its cadres. The fatigue of the workers would go away as Shiv Sena workers like to counter aggressive politics.”

Narayan Rane started his political career with the Shiv Sena in 1970s and became a Shakha Pramukh of Shiv Sena’s Chembur branch. He rose within the ranks of the party and became a MLA in 1990. The biggest break of his political career came in February 1999 when Balasaheb Thackeray appointed him the CM of the state. He was expelled from the party in 2005 and had joined the Congress and became a minister in the state government.

Rane wanted to become CM in 2008, but was denied the post by the Congress high command. Later, in 2017, Rane with his sons Nitesh and Nilesh floated his own party “Maharashtra Swabhiman Paksha”, and openly announced that they will support the BJP in the state. He formally joined the BJP in 2019.