NCP chief Sharad Pawar set tongues wagging Monday after meeting former Congress leader Narayan Rane amid speculation over the latter's possible return to the opposition-fold ahead of the 2019 general elections.
Rane, former chief minister, quit the Congress in September last year and floated a new party, the Maharashtra Swabhimani Paksha.
While both Pawar and 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.
"He (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," Rane said.
However, an NCP source said 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.
They also pointed to 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 Rane as he does not enjoy a good rapport with the Shiv Sena," a 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 Rane is a good option because of his winnability," the source said.
It was unlikely that Rane would go back to the Shiv Sena or the Congress, the source added.
Asked about the meeting, Rane's MLA son Nitesh, who too was present when the two senior leaders met, said, "He (Pawar) was heading towards Ratnagiri from Kankavli. He said he would come for tea, so he did.
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