Union Minister Narayan Rane was on Tuesday arrested and taken into custody by the police at Sangameshwar in Ratnagiri district of Maharashtra for his statement on Monday that he would have slapped State Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray for forgetting the year India got freedom during his Independence Day speech.
Late in the evening, a court in Mahad granted him bail. Mr. Rane was produced in the court by the police a little after 9 p.m.
Reports say the court considered his health condition and age. BJP leader Pravin Darekar and Prasad Lad, MLC, told a news agency that he had left for Mumbai.
Earlier in the day, the Bombay High Court refused to grant him any relief over his “would have slapped Uddhav Thackeray” comment.
Advocate Aniket Nikam, for Mr. Rane, will approach High Court on Wednesday, seeking to quash the FIRs against the former Chief Minister.
Soon after Mr. Rane spoke at the “Jan Ashirvad Yatra” of the BJP in Raigad district, clashes broke out in the State.
He is charged with Section 153 (wantonly giving provocation with intent to cause riot, if rioting be committed, if not committed) and 505 (statements conducing to public mischief) of the IPC. Shiv Sena supporters protested in various places.
In Solapur, they blackened Mr. Rane’s photo, garlanded it with chappals and hit it with footwear. Party activists vandalised the BJP’s office in Nashik. Baramati, Nagpur and Sangli too witnessed protests.
Appearing before a Division Bench of Justices S.S. Shinde and N.J. Jamadar in the High Court, Mr. Nikam said the offences under which Mr. Rane had been charged attracted less that seven years in prison and no notice was issued to him under Section 41A (notice of appearance before police officer) of the Code of Criminal Procedure. The court told him to follow the procedure and get the petition numbered by the registry first.
In his Raigad speech, Mr. Rane said, “The State’s economy and all businesses are in turmoil owing to this man [Mr. Thackeray] pathetic management of affairs…more than 1.5 lakh persons have lost their lives due to the State’s mismanagement of the COVID-19 pandemic. There was a shortage of vaccines, no medical staff, no doctors. The State’s health infrastructure was in a shambolic state… Does he [Mr. Thackeray] even have the right to speak on anything… He ought to keep a secretary as he did not even know it was the 75th anniversary of India’s Independence and was asking someone backstage [on Independence Day]. I would have given him a tight slap had I been there for forgetting the number of years of India’s Independence”.
The FIRs were registered against Mr. Rane in Pune by the Yuva Sena (the Shiv Sena’s youth wing), one in Nashik and two at Mahad in Raigad district.
High drama was seen in Ratnagiri when the Sangameshwar police went to arrest him, triggering heated altercations between his aides and the authorities.
Pramod Jathar, BJP leader from the Konkan, said, “What crime has Mr. Rane committed. This is a lawless State…we told the Superintendent of Police that we are ready to come down to the jail if the police had a proper warrant. But the police claim they are under tremendous pressure. Is this rule by law or g oonda raj ”.
While BJP Leader of the Opposition and former Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis admitted that Mr. Rane ought to have shown restraint in his statements, State BJP president Chandrakant Patil said it was “against protocol” for a State government to arrest a Union Minister.
“All this arrest drama has been contrived by the Maha Vikas Aghadi government to divert the public’s attention from the fact that Mr. Rane has been receiving overwhelming support in the Konkan region during his ‘Jan Ashirwad Yatra’,” Mr. Patil claimed.
Mr. Rane’s flamboyant style of speech was no secret. Even in the past, he had allegedly called Mr. Thackeray a chor (thief) when the latter was not the Chief Minister, he stated.
“I wonder who is advising the Chief Minister to do all this... As far as maintaining the decorum of the post is concerned, we [the BJP], too, have a long list of how those holding government and legislative posts have misused and abused power to support their respective parties… It is not a question of justifying Mr. Rane’s remark. But then ‘derogatory’ remarks made by leaders from the three ruling coalition parties have gone unnoticed without inviting any action…this is not fair,” he added.
The induction of Mr. Rane in the Union Cabinet last month is being viewed as an aggressive move on the BJP’s part to neutralise the Sena in the Konkan.
Himself a former Shiv Sainik and an important face of the Maratha community, Mr. Rane’s ‘Sena baiting’ has grown even more strident since he exited the Congress in 2017.
However, his entry into the BJP had not been smooth and was a bone of contention when the BJP and the Sena were in alliance in the erstwhile Devendra Fadnavis government.
The Konkan strongman had accused the Sena of deliberately delaying his entry, given the mutual antipathy between himself and Mr. Thackeray.
In September 2017, Mr. Rane severed his decade plus-long association with the Congress with the expectation that the BJP, which is weak in the Konkan belt, would welcome him with open arms. At the time of his exit, he had vowed to deplete the ranks of his former parties, the Sena and the Congress.
In the interim up until the present moment, he has repeatedly launched vitriolic attacks on Mr. Thackeray, berating the latter’s capabilities as party head and then as Chief Minister.
Mr. Rane, who ruled his fiefdom of Kudal in Sindhudurg district which he held for six terms as MLA, had been comprehensively trounced by the Sena’s Vaibhav Naik in the 2014 Assembly elections – a defeat he has neither forgotten nor forgiven.