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The political temperatures shot up suddenly on Saturday as Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis made a surprise visit to the home of senior Congress leader and former Chief Minister Narayan T. Rane late on Friday night. Since the past few months, there has been widespread speculation that Rane is likely to desert Congress and join the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.
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Fadnavis's unannounced visit to Rane has fuelled the possibilities that Rane might make his moves sooner than later, much to the discomfiture of the Maharashtra Congress. Though what transpired between the two leaders was kept under wraps, the significance of their meeting during the ongoing 12-day Ganeshotsav ended up making a loud political statement. Rane, 65, was handpicked by the late Bal Thackeray as Chief Minister of the erstwhile Shiv Sena-BJP government which ruled the state between 1995-1999. He had replaced Manohar Joshi and was in office February-October 1999.
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He was noted for his sharp political acumen, administrative skills and quick decision-making -- traits coveted, but scarce in the BJP. However, this time the Sena is reportedly upset over the prospects of a dynamic Rane joining the BJP and a resultant political quake that could shake up the uneasy ruling alliance in the state. Rane, who quit Sena in July 2005 to join the Congress, had met BJP President Amit Shah in Gujarat last April, but had dismissed all rumours that he intended to switch sides after remaining over 12 years with the Grand Old Party.
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Sources close to the Maratha strongman from Konkan claim he was peeved after being repeatedly overlooked by the Congress leadership for important responsibilities, though he had the potential to turn the party's political fortunes, at least in Maharashtra. On the ruling BJP front, the buzz is that Fadnavis may be elevated to the Centre -- which both he and Union Minister Nitin Gadkari have stoutly denied -- to relieve the burden of some cabinet ministers handling multiple portfolios. In such an eventuality, a major realignment of the political scape is not entirely ruled out, with the Nationalist Congress Party likely to play an important role.