Mumbai: In 2014, Navneet Rana — a former model and Tollywood actor — contested the Lok Sabha election on a Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) ticket, and her husband Ravi Rana contested the Maharashtra assembly election as a candidate supported by the Sharad Pawar-led party.
After the state polls, the Ranas switched their allegiance to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led governments in the state and at the Centre.
Five years later, in 2019, Navneet again contested the Lok Sabha polls and her husband Ravi the state elections, with the support of the NCP, which this time fought in an alliance with the Congress.
After the election, the couple once again switched to the BJP.
All through, Ravi and Navneet Rana remained ardent followers and close aides of Baba Ramdev, who has been a stringent critic of the Congress and the NCP.
The Ranas of Amravati have steadily built their political fortunes as a power couple since 2014, notwithstanding their several contradictions. Ravi Rana is now a three-time MLA from Badnera in Amravati. His wife, Navneet Kaur Rana, has built her fame as not only the first independent woman MP in 2019, but also one of the few giant-killers, amid the strong Narendra Modi wave prevailing that election.
Over the past few days, the couple has grabbed more attention than ever, challenging Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray to recite the Hanuman Chalisa with them at the Thackeray residence — Matoshree — earlier this month, facing flak from aggressive Shiv Sena members, and eventually getting arrested by Mumbai Police on charges of sedition, among others.
A senior Congress leader from the Vidarbha region, where the Amravati district is located, told ThePrint on condition of anonymity, “The Ranas are very junior in politics and have a limited influence. They have built their political career by going with the changing tides. They are wealthy, and so have the wherewithal to fight and win elections.”
A power couple
Navneet Kaur Rana, now 37, was born in a Punjabi family and grew up in Mumbai. She debuted on the silver screen in 2003 with a Kannada thriller, Darshan. She went on to act in two dozen films, across languages such as Telugu, Kannada, Tamil, Malayalam, Punjabi, and Hindi, although a majority of them were in the Telugu film industry (Tollywood).
Ravi is an Amravati local, and has contested and won three consecutive assembly elections from Badnera since 2009.
Both Navneet and Ravi have been devout supporters of Baba Ramdev and owe their relationship to the yoga guru. The couple met at one of Baba Ramdev’s yoga camps, and the spiritual leader obliged to chant the Vedic mantras for their wedding in 2011.
The wedding was a story in itself. Navneet and Ravi Rana tied the knot at a no-frills mass marriage ceremony that the latter had organised in Amravati for families of farmers who had committed suicide. A total of 3,200 couples got married at the ceremony, which was attended by the then Maharashtra chief minister Prithviraj Chavan, the then state industries minister Narayan Rane, actor Vivek Oberoi, and Sahara Group chairman Subrata Roy, among others.
While the Ranas have always maintained political fluidity and gravitated to the Congress and NCP on occasion, they have also had long-standing conflicts with individual members of these two parties.
For instance, Navneet has often clashed with the Congress’ Yashomati Thakur, now Guardian Minister for Amravati. Last month, while speaking at a public function in Amravati, Navneet Rana made a reference to Thakur’s age while criticising her. Navneet claimed Thakur was 10-15 years older than him, and however much she may try, “the pockmarks are likely to show on her face”.
Thakur retorted that the pockmarks on her face “are the real beauty of a farmer’s daughter”.
Similarly, the Ranas have had conflicts with Sanjay Khodke, who was expelled by the NCP in 2014 for allegedly indulging in anti-party activities, by campaigning against the Ranas in the 2014 Lok Sabha election, and “lowering a woman’s dignity”, for his criticism of Navneet. The roots of the conflict were in Ravi’s triumph over Khodke’s wife Sulabha in the 2009 assembly election.
Feud with Shiv Sena
The Ranas’ latest clash with the Shiv Sena over the Hauman Chalisa row is part of a years-old feud the couple has had with the party.
In March 2014, Navneet Rana, who was contesting the Lok Sabha election on an NCP ticket, accused Shiv Sena’s Anandrao Adsul and his supporters of abusing and threatening her. Adsul was booked by the Amravati Police for the same. Sena strongman Adsul, the incumbent MP, was her direct rival and defeated the actor-turned-politician with a margin of 1.37 lakh votes.
It was also around this time that a social activist challenged her caste certificate in court, claiming it to be fake. The case dragged on till June 2021, when the Bombay High Court cancelled the certificate. Navneet also had to pay a fine of Rs 2 lakh to the Maharashtra Legal Services Authority.
In the 2019 Lok Sabha election, Navneet took the Shiv Sena by surprise by crushing Adsul, the official candidate of the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance, by a comfortable margin of 36,951 votes, despite a strong Modi wave. According to data declared by the candidates to Election Commission observers, Navneet also spent a large amount on her election campaign — Rs 65 lakh, as against the Shiv Sena’s Rs 49 lakh for the constituency.
In October 2019, after the Maharashtra assembly election, Ravi Rana physically came to blows with Shiv Sena’s Amravati district chief Dinesh Boob. Both leaders were attending separate events at an old-age home. They first got pulled into a verbal war, which ended in fisticuffs after Ravi Rana accused the Shiv Sena leader of using foul language while talking about his MP wife.
In March 2021, Navneet wrote a letter to Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla, complaining against Shiv Sena MP Arvind Sawant, alleging that he threatened her for raising an issue concerning now dismissed cop Sachin Waze. According to her, Sawant allegedly said, “Tu Maharashtra main kaise ghoomti hain main dekhta hun aur tereko bhi jail mein dalenge (I will see how you roam freely in Maharashtra and we will also put you in jail).”
A senior Shiv Sena leader involved in the party’s work in Amravati told ThePrint, requesting anonymity, that while the Ranas’ ‘Hanuman Chalisa’ challenge was a plain publicity stunt, the party’s aggressive reaction was perhaps counterproductive.
“Instead of clashing, had the party said, come to Matoshree, chant your Hanuman Chalisa, we will give you a quiet room to do so, it would have taken the wind out of their sails,” he said. “We have unfortunately catapulted the Ranas to national news.”
(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)