Not one to go quietly

Print edition : July 29, 2005

FROM being an active grassroots worker to a gritty climb upwards to become the Chief Minister of Maharashtra and then the descent and the expulsion from the party - Narayan Rane's political career has always been turbulent.

His career with the Shiv Sena started about 39 years ago. After passing his Secondary School Certificate examination, he joined the Income-Tax Department as a clerk. Around the same time, he joined the Shiv Sena in the party's Chembur (Mumbai) shakha, with which he was associated until his expulsion.

His rise was steady. After being made shakha pramukh, he was given the ticket to fight the Mumbai Municipal Corporation elections, where his years with the Thackeray family started paying off. With some backing from Raj Thackeray, the supremo's nephew, Rane became the chairman of the Sena-led labour union with the city's transport and electric supply company where he honed his admirable administrative skills.

Rane's loyalty and nose-to-the-party-grindstone attitude paid off when the Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party combine came to power in 1995. Rane was first made a Minister of State, with the portfolio of Dairy Development and Fisheries, and later upgraded to Cabinet rank with the Revenue portfolio. His crowning moment came in 1999, when he was made Chief Minister. The appointment was made all the sweeter since his rival Manohar Joshi had been removed to make place for him.

In retrospect, this was also the moment when the subtle push for power by Raj got its public face. Manohar Joshi had never been a supporter of Raj, and when things soured temporarily between Thackeray and Joshi, Rane and Raj took advantage of the situation. Interestingly, Raj Thackeray has not said much to save his faithful supporter in his present crisis.

Rane's future is uncertain, though insiders say the 53-year-old Maratha leader will have many back-up plans to ensure his political comfort. The most obvious alternatives are to join the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) or the Congress. While the NCP would welcome a high-profile Sena member into its fold, the party would also have to take into account the strong anti-Rane feeling in its Konkan units. In 1991, Rane was named as an accused in the murder of a Sindhudurg district Youth Congress worker (later this unit's loyalties shifted to Pawar's NCP). Though acquitted, the stamp of the underworld has stayed with Rane.

Even at his July 8 meeting, along with the 10 legislators who showed up to offer support, there was Romila Thapa, sister of Kim Bahadur Thapa, a gangster wanted by the police. Before his gangland murder, Thapa's associations with the Sena were common knowledge. If the presence of people like Thapa's sister (who has inherited Thapa's `business') at Rane's official residence is any indicator of the times to come, then the perception that Rane will not go quietly would seem well-founded.

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