Mumbai, Apr 17 (PTI) The Congress in Maharashtra is maintaining a studied silence over the issue of sulking leader Narayan Rane, who is said to be contemplating leaving the party.Also Read - Maharashtra CM Inaugurates Chipi Airport in Sindhudurg, Launches Konkan on Air-Map. All You Need to Know

Earlier this week, speculation was rife that the 64- year-old Shiv Sainik-turned-Congressman was headed towards the BJP camp. However, both sides denied any such development but that was not enough to quell the speculation. Also Read - Mumbai Local Train Latest News: Maharashtra BJP Demands Immediate Resumption of Trains For All, Aaditya Thackeray Says Matter Under Consideration

The former Chief Minister has been for long critical of the party leadership and often boasted that he has an “open invitation” from the BJP. Also Read - Maharashtra Lockdown Update: Govt Eases Covid Curbs in 11 Districts Including Pune and Sangli | Check Full List Here

The Congress, however, is refraining from speaking publicly on the Rane issue.

“Individuals cutting across party lines can meet each other. Officially Rane and the BJP have not said anything about the likelihood of the former joining the ruling party.

There is no curiosity among the party rank and file on what decision Rane will take since he has been critical of the party and its leaders,” a senior Congress functionary said.

Another party office-bearer said he has no comments to offer. But he cryptically added, “No comments is in itself a comment”, apparently indicating the party is not too much bothered about the maverick leader’s moves.

Last week, news channels flashed pictures of Rane and his MLA-son Nitesh accompanying Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis during his Ahmedabad visit. The Ranes were said to on their way to meet BJP President Amit Shah who was that time in Ahmedabad.

However, both Rane and Fadnavis denied meeting each other in Ahmedabad.

Top Congress leaders in the state are currently on the second leg of their `Sangharsh Yatra’ demanding farm loan waiver. Rane has stayed away from the yatra though he attended the concluding rally of the first phase at Panvel.

Rane’s elder son Nilesh, a former Lok Sabha MP, has demanded removal of State Congress President Ashok Chavan.

The BJP appears to be in two minds on inducting the Congress leader, who is prone to making controversial statements.

A Maharashtra BJP office-bearer said any decision on Rane will be taken by the party’s central leadership. “There are two views on inducting him in the party. But a final decision can only to taken by the central leadership.” Rane lost the 2014 Assembly polls from Malvan, while his son Nilesh was defeated from the Ratnagiri-Sindhudurg seat in the Lok Sabha elections held the same year.

Rane made an attempt to enter the Assembly in April 2015 in a by-election from Bandra (East) but lost to the Shiv Sena. He was later rehabilitated in the Legislative Council.

BJP leaders said despite his electoral defeats and waning clout, the Congress leader still holds sway in parts of the coastal Konkan region.

Meanwhile, political observers said if Rane quits, it will be a setback for the Congress, which may lose the post of Leader of Opposition in the Assembly.

“The Congress has 42 MLAs and the NCP 41. If Rane quits Congress, his son Nitesh and close aide Kalidas Kolambkar, who is also an MLA, too, will resign. This will lower the Congress tally in the Assembly and the Leader of Opposition post would go to the NCP,” they said.

Similarly, the Congress would lose power in the Sindhudurg Zilla Parishad in Konkan where the party, led by Rane, had bagged a majority in the just-held elections.

According to Congress sources, when Rane took his grievances to party Vice-President Rahul Gandhi, the latter asked him about the complaints state leaders have against him.

A section in BJP feels Rane’s entry will strengthen the saffron party in Sindhudurg district and also help in the 2019 Assembly polls. However, BJP leaders from Konkan are said to be not too enthusiastic about his entry.

This is published unedited from the PTI feed.