MUMBAI: NCP chief Sharad Pawar set tongues wagging Monday after he met former Congress leader Narayan Rane amid the speculation of the latter's possible return to the opposition-fold ahead of the 2019 general election.
Pawar, who is currently touring Sindhudurg district in the Konkan region of Maharashtra, visited former chief minister Rane's residence in Kankavli.
Rane, who has a strong support base in the Konkan region, had quit the Congress in September last year and floated a new party -- the Maharashtra Swabhimani Paksha.
He is currently a Rajya Sabha member backed by the ruling BJP.
Asked about the meeting, Rane's MLA son Nitesh, who too was present when the two senior leaders met, called it a "courtesy visit".
"He (Pawar) was heading towards Ratnagiri from Kankavli. He said he would come for tea, so he did," the legislator said, refusing to divulge any details.
However, a source said, "An informal discussion was held during the meeting on the current political scenario. Few more meetings between the two leaders may follow."
According to sources in the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), the option of fielding Rane from the Ratnagiri-Sindhudurg Lok Sabha constituency on a party ticket was currently being explored.
They claimed that Rane was upset with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) extending an olive branch to its alliance partner Shiv Sena ahead of the Lok Sabha polls.
Rane had left the Sena on a bitter note in 2005.
The sources also referred to Rane's latest 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 (for the LS polls) talks with other like-minded parties, including the NCP, does not have a strong candidate to field from the Ratnagiri-Sindhudurg seat, currently represented in Parliament by Shiv Sena's Vinayak Raut, he added.
"The NCP too does not have a strong candidate there, but fielding Rane is a good option because of his winnability," the source said.
Given the practical reality, it was unlikely that Rane would go back to the Shiv Sena or the Congress, but could very well join the NCP, he added.