M A I N   N E W S

Thackeray sacks Rane
Set to join NCP with a number of MLAs 
Shiv Kumar
Tribune News Service

Mumbai, July 3
Former Shiv Sena leader Narayan Rane, who resigned as the Leader of the Opposition in the Maharashtra Assembly yesterday, is all set to join the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) along with a number of party MLAs.

Of the 63 MLAs of the Shiv Sena, more than 12 are reportedly in touch with him. They are being wooed with NCP ticket besides other benefits for switching sides.

Rane would join the NCP accompanied by important office-bearers of the Shiv Sena, sources in Sharad Pawar’s party said.

Suresh Prabhu, senior Shiv Sena leader and former Power Minister in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government, is also likely to join the NCP.

In a sharp reaction to Rane’s decision to quit as the Leader of the Opposition in Maharashtra, Bal Thackeray today expelled him from the party. At a meeting of party workers this afternoon, he called Rane a traitor and called upon his party workers to punish him.

Immediately afterwards, Shiv Sena cadres turned on to supporters of Rane who had turned up at the meeting in large numbers. However, a timely action by the police prevented a riot from breaking out.

After the party meeting, Thackeray asked Rane to resign from his Assembly seat as well. “While announcing the decision to step down as Sena leader yesterday, Rane had talked about his ‘self-respect’ being above everything else. If he has any self-respect, he should also resign from the Assembly,” Thackeray said.

The Shiv Sena supremo also refused to appease the supporters of Rane. “Rane has betrayed my trust. His leaving will not make any difference to party’s image. Whosoever wants to leave is free to do so. We are not going to stop them,” he said.

Thackeray, who was flanked by son Uddhav and nephew Raj, said the Shiv Sena would shortly elect the Leader of the Opposition in the Assembly.

He accused Rane of flexing his muscles. “Rane began a show of strength...People were threatened. I cannot tolerate gangsterism in the Sena,” he said.

Rane’s relations with the Shiv Sena had turned sour after the party lost the Assembly poll last year. He then alleged that party ticket were ‘sold’ to the highest bidder. It was then felt that Rane was targetting Thackeray’s son Uddhav who was all set to be promoted as the Shiv Sena-BJP combine’s chief ministerial candidate.

“If it is proved that Uddhav, Raj and I have taken money, we will not stay in the party,” Thackeray said today.

Last week, Thackeray had sought to placate Rane by putting out a conciliatory statement in the party mouthpiece Saamna. “Rane is a staunch Shiv Sainik who would never betray the party,” Thackeray had said. Even Rane said he would not quit the party.

Observers say the entry of leaders like Rane into the NCP would enable it to upstage its coalition partner, the Congress, in the state and help it push towards forming a third front at the national level.

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