The Bandra East Assembly by-poll is likely to be a make-or-break election for senior Congress leader Narayan Rane, according to political observers.
Rane, who suffered a shock defeat at his home town Kudal in Sindhudurg district during Maharashtra Assembly polls last year, losing to his bete noire Vaibhav Naik of Shiv Sena by nearly 10,000 votes, is hoping to revive his decimated political career through the Bandra East Assembly bypoll.
Congress-NCP candidate Narayan Rane with Congress leader Priya Dutt campaign for the Assembly bypoll at Bharat Nagar at Bandra in Mumbai on Tuesday. Pic/PTI
Political observers are keeping a keen watch on whether the 62-year-old leader, who was contemplating quitting the Congress after the Lok Sabha elections last year, can come out of his "political hibernation".
Rane is pitted against Trupti Sawant, widow of sitting Shiv Sena MLA Bala Sawant, whose death necessitated the bypoll scheduled to be held on April 11.
The contest has attained a high profile tone as the constituency houses the residence of Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray, against whom Rane had launched a tirade before being forced to quit the party (Sena).
All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM) legislator from Byculla, Waris Pathan told PTI that his party candidate Rehbar Khan, who polled about 24,000 votes in the Assembly poll last year, would better his vote share in the upcoming by-election.
"Our fight is against the Sena and not Congress. We will get support from non-Muslim voters as well. After seeing our performance in the Legislative Assembly in the last five months, people are confident that we are their voice in the Legislature," he said.
Pathan said the Bill banning cow slaughter was passed by the Sena-BJP government when Narayan Rane was the chief minister. Similarly, he opposed implementation of the Srikrishna Commission report which probed the 1992-93 riots.
"Muslims will never support him," he said.
Experts say that MIM may emerge as a deciding factor in the election.
Sena MLC Anil Parab said his party cadre is putting in all efforts to defeat Rane.
"All of us want Rane's political career to end in this bypoll, as the constituency is home of late Balasaheb Thackeray. BJP and RPI are supporting our candidate. Bala Sawant was a two-time MLA and thrice corporator from the area. The common man could identify with him," he said.
Meanwhile, Rane said MIM cannot claim to espouse the Muslim cause. "What did it do when the Muslim reservation was scrapped by the BJP government?" he asked.
Rane also targeted Sena for contesting the election on emotional appeal.
"Such emotional appeals and sympathy do not solve people's issues," he said referring to Bala Sawant's widow Trupti, who is the candidate in fray.
Rane also said his focus has always been development and he would stick to it.
In October 2014, Sena's Bala Sawant had got 41,388 votes and defeated BJP's Mahesh Parkar by 15,000 votes.
Rehbar Khan of MIM received 23,976 votes and was placed third, while the BJP and Congress got 25,791 and 12,229 votes respectively.
For the by-poll, the BJP has said it is supporting the Sena candidate, while NCP has extended its support to Rane.
The constituency, mainly dominated by Maharashtrians from Konkan region, has around 80,000 Muslim and around 50,000 Dalit voters.
The entire Mumbai Congress unit has come together to support Rane, former Congress MLA Krishna Hegde said.
"Bandra East has been a Congress stronghold. Sunil Dutt's vote margin had always been high in the Bandra East area for Lok Sabha election. Priya Dutt got good support from here while Janardhan Chandurkar won this Assembly segment thrice. Congress candidates won this seat even before Chandurkar," he said.
The MIM public meetings have been a flop with poor turnout, he claimed.
"Rane has risen from the ranks of a corporator to Chief Minister and people feel he is a go getter. Their issues are about basic amenities which the Sena-BJP ruled municipal corporation did not provide," Hegde said.
The constituency with huge slum pockets dominated by Muslims and North Indians, localities of Kalanagar (residence of Uddhav Thackeray), Sahitya Sahawas (Sachin Tendulkar's childhood home), MIG, teachers' colony, government colony with Maharashtrian population have a voter population of about three lakh.
If Sena retains the seat, it will also have an edge in the state government and in the upcoming Mumbai Municipal Corporation's election.
If Rane wins, then he will pose a big challenge to the state government as an opposition, observers said.