'Rane Versus Uddhav' In 2021 Is Actually 'BJP Versus Shiv Sena' For BMC 2022
The Brihanmumbai Mahanagar Palika (BMC) and adjacent regions make the political and financial heart of the Shiv Sena.
Narayan Rane threatens Sena control in this region. Expect more fireworks before BMC elections early next year.
There was high drama in Maharashtra on Tuesday, 24 August when the Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena filed cases against Union Cabinet minister Narayan Rane for his statements about hypothetically slapping the chief minister and had him arrested. Rane was in the midst of his Jan Ashirwad Yatra, an exercise which is being carried out nationally by the newly appointed ministers in the Narendra Modi-led NDA government.
Unlike parties like the BJP, Congress and the NCP, the Shiv Sena is still crude in it politics and thrives on emotive issues and sentiments like pride and revenge. The Sena leadership was aware that the charges against Rane would not stick in a court of law, but it appears like the Sena high command wanted to satisfy its ego by keeping Rane in jail for at least one night.
Their attempts failed as not only was Rane granted bail on Tuesday night, but the Bombay high court slammed the MVA govt for the arrest too.
There are many angles through which this specific event can be seen.
The story starts in the Mumbai suburb of Chembur in the early 1970s when Narayan Rane was said to be a part of the so-called Harya-Narya gang (Narya stands for Narayan). The Sena derisively calls him ‘kombdi-chor' because there was a police case against for allegedly stealing a hen (kombdi in Marathi).
Later, Rane was inducted into the Shiv Sena by party supremo Bal Thackeray and was make a shakha pramukh and later elected as a Sena MLA. He became a cabinet minister in the first Sena-BJP govt in 1995 and later became the chief minister for a 9-month tenure. Thus, Rane had a metamorphosis from an alleged gangster to an administrator, akin to the legend of Rishi Valmiki (There is a saying in Marathi “Valya chha Valmiki zhala”).
In 2005, Rane joined the Congress after a bitter fallout with the Sena and broke away with a few Sena MLAs. He got most of these MLAs elected on a Congress ticket and virtually hounded the Sena in Konkan belt during the by-polls.
Since then, there has been bitterness and mutual animosity between Rane and the Shiv Sena, especially between Uddhav Thackeray and Rane. Rane served as a cabinet minister in two Congress-NCP governments from 2005 till 2014 and left the Congress in 2017 after criticising the Congress high command for ‘reneging on its word to make him the chief minister’. He eventually joined the BJP and was made a Rajya Sabha MP.
Finally, he was made a Union Cabinet minister for MSME in the first cabinet reshuffle of the Modi government 2.0.
There are a lot of reasons why the senior leadership of the BJP and former Maharashtra CM Devendra Fadnavis were in favour of inducting Rane into the Union cabinet:
--Rane is known to be a tough administrator and controls bureaucrats well. The way PM Modi operates with tight control over his ministers, Rane can take forward Modi’s policies for the MSME ministry.
--Rane is from the Sena bastion of Konkan and is from the Maratha community. Lot of Marathi population residing in the Mumbai Metropolitan region (MMR) have their origins in the Konkan region. More than half the Senas MLAs are from the Mumba-Thane-Konkan belt.
--Rane being a former Shiv Sainik knows many secrets of the Sena and has a lot of sympathisers in the party.
--Sena’s animosity for Rane can make them do self-destructive things as Rane constantly baits them.
As Rane started his Jan Ashirwad Yatra from Mumbai and went into Konkan, the Sena was squirming, as Rane was targeting their core vote-bank. Rane’s statement of hypothetically slapping Uddhav if he was in the meeting where Uddhav was unaware of the number of years since India became independent (and inquired with his secretary to check), riled Sena no end. So, they planned to do an ‘Arnab’ on Rane. Soon, the Sena cadre was on the streets attacking BJP offices and office bearers. The plan was to enthuse their support base by making Rane spend at least one night in prison. However, the charges levied on Rane were so frivolous that the lower court dismissed them and granted Rane bail on Tuesday night itself.
This was virtually an udta teer which the Shiv Sena took on itself. Rane and Fadnavis were expecting a similar outcome and expectedly, Sena walked right into the trap. Let me tell you why.
Sena’s financial muscle comes from the Brihanmumbai Mahanagar Palika (BMC), which has an annual budget of Rs 40,000 crores and known fixed deposits of approximately Rs 70,000 crores. A good source for funds which are needed for party expansion in the hinterland and for fighting elections. Note that the Shiv Sena is not a party of dominant land-holding castes like the NCP, nor is it supported by the business class, like the BJP. Hence, BMC is the heart of the Sena, financially and politically.
Apart from the Aurangabad municipal corporation, all other Sena-administered municipal bodies are in the Mumbai-Thane and MMR region. 29 out of its 56 MLAs come from Mumbai, Thane, Palghar, Raigad, Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg districts which geographically form the Konkan region (or the seaboard) of Maharashtra.
Mumbai’s demography has changed rapidly over the years and today, Marathi-speakers count for only 30 per cent of the population of the city, approximately. The Sena’s vote bank in the city is two-thirds of this block or 20 per cent of the overall vote. The BJP, on the other hand, draws its votes from the Gujarati, Hindi-speaking, Marwari, Kannadiga, Tamil and even the Marathi-speaking middle and upper middle class. These communities form approximately 50% per cent of the city’s population. The 20 per cent Sena vote bank largely consists of the lower-middle-class and the poor living in chawls (areas like Worli, Shivadi, Byculla, Parel, Lalbaug) and slums (Vikhroli, Bhandup, Kurla, Chembur, Jogeshwari). Majority of these Sena voters share a love-hate relationship with Narayan Rane.
Rane, as a cabinet minister and CM between 1995 – 1999 and later as Congress cabinet minister from 2005-2014 built roads in the remote hilly villages in the Sahyadri and along the coastline. My own village had a mud road till the mid-1990s and Rane is credited with building the first tar road in the village. He also started an engineering college and recently a medical college and a whole host of other educational institutions in the coast. This provided a chance to the students in the Konkan belt to study at home instead of having to migrate to Mumbai. He also provided jobs to a lot of natives from Konkan in the BEST service or in the government-run Worli dairy in that period. A large number of such beneficiaries and Konkan residents have sympathy for Rane. More importantly from the Shiv Sena point of view, a large number of Marathi-speaking residents of Mumbai have their roots and families in Konkan.
This terrifies the Sena as a small dent in its vote bank could cost the party dearly in the BMC elections. Especially, as the Sena looks for a pre-poll tie-up with the Congress to access the 21 per cent Muslim vote bank in Mumbai. The Hindutva-minded voters of the Sena are likely to disapprove of this move. Moreover, the Raj Thackeray-led MNS will look to poach such votes too. On top of this, the BJP gave Narayan Rane pride of place in the party and in the Union cabinet. It is difficult to imagine that development NOT having an effect in the upcoming BMC elections.
Suffice to say that if the Sena were to lose the BMC election in 2022, it would be the start of the disintegration of the party. It is directly fighting the BJP on the one hand and indirectly competing with the NCP and Congress on the other. NCP supremo Sharad Pawar cleverly distanced himself from the Narayan Rane arrest episode and NCP-friendly media channels even leaked a video showing State Transport Minister Anil Parab ordering the police to arrest Narayan Rane without proper paperwork, even as the NCP Home Minister was not in the picture. Sena countered that by later leaking the news that the decision to arrest Rane was taken on Monday night itself and Deputy CM Ajit Pawar was one of the decision-makers in that regard.
Another interesting facet is that the Sena and the BJP are bickering publicly and playing to their respective galleries (read voters) to make the BMC election a straight fight between themselves. A similar thing had happened in 2017, when the then allies BJP-Sena fought against each other and amassed huge tallies in the BMC poll, while the Congress and MNS were left high and dry. The friends-turned-enemies seek to replicate this scenario again in 2022.
The Congress under new city president, Bhai Jagtap, understands this and is proclaiming going alone to save the party’s diminishing identity in the city.
Remember the photo-op of Sanjay Raut with Rahul Gandhi during the Opposition meet in Delhi? (and digging into chole-bhature). Those are Sena’s attempts to bypass the reluctant city- and state leadership of the Congress and get a tie-up done through the Congress high command.
Hence, while the real fight in BMC will be spearheaded by BJP city president Mangal Prabhat Lodha, MLA Ashish Shelar and MLA Atul Bhatkhalkar along with other local city faces, Narayan Rane will be used as a mascot by the BJP to spook the Sena. The sootradhar behind this is none other than former CM Devendra Fadnavis.
‘Act One’ ended in victory, on points, for Narayan Rane. Sena is fighting a battle to retain its relevance in the upcoming BMC election scheduled for early 2022 and the BJP is bent on conquering the Sena’s strongest fort. Expect more fireworks in the future.
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