Debating India

The real face of the Shiv Sena

Saturday 13 February 1999, by BAVADAM*Lyla

THE first press conference Narayan Tatu Rane addressed as Chief Minister of Maharashtra lasted just 30 minutes. Rane looked impassively at the gathering of journalists. No bluster, no laughter, no bonhomie: he pointedly ignored even the laughter that followed a joke cracked by Deputy Chief Minister Gopinath Munde. Rane was clearly not interested in emulating the genial image nurtured by his predecessor Manohar Joshi. He had chosen to portray the Shiv Sena’s real face.

When the 47-year-old Maratha leader, a native of the coastal district of Sindhudurg, was sworn in Chief Minister on February 1, no one doubted the fact that his appointment was the result of his absolute loyalty to the Thackeray family.

Rane’s ’career’ in the Shiv Sena began more than 25 years ago. After passing his Secondary School Certificate examination in 1970, Rane got a job as a clerk in the Income Tax Department. Around the same time he joined the Shiv Sena and remained an active member of the party’s branch in Chembur in north Mumbai. He was made a shakha pramukh in 1984. The following year he was given the party ticket for the Bombay Municipal Corporation.

During his years as a corporator, Rane’s loyalty to the Thackerays started bearing fruit. With a little help from Raj Thackeray, Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray’s nephew, Rane became the Chairman of the Bombay Electric Supply and Transport (BEST) undertaking with an annual budget of Rs. 1,500 crores. The three years he spent in the coveted post helped him hone his administrative skills. In 1995, when the Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party coalition came to power in the State, Rane’s loyalty finally paid off again. He was made Minister for Dairy Development and Fisheries. Later he was given the Revenue portfolio.

In a manner of speaking, Rane has been a Chief Minister-in-waiting for nearly two years. He almost achieved his goal about six months ago, but a stroke of tactical genius on the part of Manohar Joshi delayed his moment of glory. The rift between Joshi and Bal Thackeray was public knowledge and the axe was expected to fall on Joshi any time. However, Joshi pre-empted the move to sack him by floating a rumour that implied that Thackeray’s decision to dismiss him was being guided by the BJP. This move, however, lengthened Joshi’s tenure by only a few months.

Rane’s appointment has been welcomed by the Shiv Sena cadre, bureaucrats and the BJP. He is said to be a good administrator, a quality which, bureaucrats say, Joshi did not possess. At his first press conference, Rane told mediapersons that he was determined to start his working day early and ensure that efficiency became a byword in Mantralaya - a work ethic that seems to be at odds with the Shiv Sena’s style of functioning.

In 1991 Rane was named an accused in the case relating to the murder of a Sindhudurg district Youth Congress leader, Sridhar Naik. He was acquitted, but his political opponents allege that he is not unfamiliar with the underworld. In the 1980s, when the Shiv Sena fought the State elections, Rane campaigned in the Konkan region and succeeded in garnering the support of a few districts for the Shiv Sena.

Joshi was nominated Chief Minister in March 1995 after the Shiv Sena-BJP combine came to power mainly owing to his polish and poise. He was the presentable face of the Shiv Sena. In contrast, Rane is more representative of the Shiv Sena. For its part, the BJP appears to be willing to turn a blind eye to this fact. As one leader remarked: "Joshi was an armchair politician. Rane has risen from the ranks, he has taken part in street agitations."

Rane’s administrative abilities and grassroots-level work are expected to strengthen his position as Chief Minister. Added to this is the fact that he is backed by the entire Thackeray family, including its latest power wielder, Smita Thackeray, Bal Thackeray’s daughter-in-law. Clearly, with so many godfathers to please, Rane will toe their line and not repeat the mistakes of Joshi.

See online : Frontline

SPIP | template | | Site Map | Follow-up of the site's activity RSS 2.0