NCP chief Sharad Pawar met BJP-backed Maharashtra Swabhimani Paksha chief Narayan Rane
NCP chief Sharad Pawar met former Congress leader Narayan Rane on Monday amid speculation over the Mr Rane's possible return to the opposition-fold ahead of the 2019 general elections.
Mr Pawar, who is touring Sindhudurg district in the coastal Konkan region of Maharashtra, visited Narayan Rane's residence in Kankavli. Mr Rane is a Rajya Sabha member backed by the BJP.
Mr Rane, a former chief minister, quit the Congress in September last year and floated a new party, the Maharashtra Swabhimani Paksha.
While both Mr Pawar and Mr Rane maintained it was a "courtesy" meeting, sources in the NCP said the party was exploring the option of fielding the Konkan leader from the Ratnagiri-Sindhudurg Lok Sabha constituency.
"Had a courtesy meeting with president of Maharashtra Swabhiman Paksha @MeNarayanRane. Could discuss with him on several issues candidly," Mr Pawar tweeted.
Mr Rane told news agency PTI that the meeting lasted for just over five minutes and suggested no political interference be drawn out of it.
"He (Sharad Pawar) just had coconut water…there was no such discussion (on switching to the opposition fold) during the meeting. I am not discussing anything with anyone," Mr Rane said.
However, an NCP source told news agency PTI that an "informal discussion" was held during the meeting on the current political scenario. "A few more meetings between the two leaders may follow," the source said.
According to NCP sources, Mr Rane was upset with the BJP looking for peace with its alliance partner Shiv Sena ahead of the Lok Sabha polls. Mr Rane had left the Sena on a bitter note in 2005.
They also pointed to Mr Rane's recent criticism of the BJP-led central government over a range of issues. "The BJP cajoling the Shiv Sena is not something that will go down well with Mr Rane as he does not enjoy a good rapport with the Shiv Sena," the source said.
The Congress, which is in seat-sharing talks (for the Lok Sabha polls) with other like-minded parties, including the NCP, lacks a strong candidate to field from the seat, being represented by Shiv Sena's Vinayak Raut, he added.
"The NCP also does not have a strong candidate there, so fielding Narayan Rane is a good option because of his winnability," the source said.
It was unlikely that Mr Rane would go back to the Shiv Sena or the Congress, the source added.
Asked about the meeting, Mr Rane's MLA son Nitesh, who too was present when the two senior leaders met, said, "He (Sharad Pawar) was heading towards Ratnagiri from Kankavli. He said he would come for tea, so he did."