Union Minister Narayan Rane was arrested today over his comment on slapping Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray for what he called his “ignorance of the year India won Independence”.
Mr Rane, a BJP leader who joined Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s cabinet in July as Minister for Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises, is the first central minister to be arrested in 20 years. His arrest has become the new flashpoint between allies-turned-rivals Sena and BJP.
The minister was arrested while he was having his meal, shortly after the Bombay High Court rejected his request for an urgent hearing on his petition for protection against action.
Mr Rane’s lawyer told the court: “The police have arrived to arrest him, they are waiting at his doorstep.” The High Court responded: “Please follow the procedure. Don’t make us do the job of the registry.”
The Chief Minister’s Shiv Sena had filed cases against Mr Rane over his remarks on Monday at a “Jan Ashirwad Yatra” organised nationwide by the BJP. He claimed Mr Thackeray forgot the year of independence during his August 15 address and had to check with his aide mid-speech.
“It is shameful that the Chief Minister does not know the year of independence. He leaned back to ask about the count of years of independence during his speech. Had I been there, I would have given him a tight slap,” Mr Rane said in the public meeting.
The comments sparked Shiv Sena protests and FIRs were filed in three cities listing non-bailable offences.
Mr Rane had lashed out at the media for reporting his ”imminent arrest”, saying he was no ordinary man.
“I haven’t committed any crime. You should verify and show it on TV or else I will file a case against you (media). Despite not committing any crime, the media is showing speculative news about my ‘imminent’ arrest. Do you think I am a normal (ordinary) man?” he had said.
The Sena alleged that Mr Rane, a former leader of the party, deliberately made the remarks to provoke tension in Maharashtra. Clashes erupted this morning as Sena members marching towards Mr Rane’s home in Mumbai, carrying flags and shouting slogans, were stopped by BJP workers. Sena workers also targeted BJP offices in cities like Nashik.
The BJP’s Devendra Fadnavis said he didn’t support Mr Rane’s comments but compared the police action to the Taliban.
“I want to make it clear that we do not support the comment about the Chief Minister but we will stand by Rane with all our strength. I want to tell the police commissioner that if there is no action against those who attacked our offices then both opposition leaders will sit on dharna at the police commissioner’s office. There should be a rule of law, not Taliban rule.”
Sena MP Vinayak Raut demanded his removal from the central government.
“To impress the BJP leadership, Rane has been attacking Shiv Sena and its leaders. He lost his mental balance after his induction into the Modi-led ministry. Modi should show him the door,” Mr Raut said.
The Sena-BJP clashes come months before the February elections to Mumbai’s civic body BMC – a high-stakes battle that has amped up politics in Maharashtra.
Mr Rane, 69, began his political career in the Shiv Sena, then led by Uddhav Thackeray’s father Bal Thackeray. He quit the Sena in 2005 over a rift with the Thackerays.
After a brief stint in the Congress, he joined the BJP in 2019.