Rana: Ravi and Navneet
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As in 2022
“This is not the right place, temples are there for it. All gods are the same but targeting someone and taking that name, it’s wrong” - Navneet Rana, MP, Amravati, in June 2019 commenting on cries of Jai Shri Ram in Parliament
April 23, 2022: Navneet Rana, threatens to chant Hanuman Chalisa outside Maharashtra chief minister Uddhav Thackeray’s house in Mumbai.
No politician in India ever worries too much about contradictions. Deploying the right language to justify changing positions on issues, shifting loyalties, even ideologies, is, in fact, considered a high art.
It isn’t a surprise at all that the ‘Hanuman Chalisa couple' that the whole country is keen to know has been a bundle of contradictions. Whether it is their politics or their friendships, it is always difficult to know where Ravi Rana, member of legislative assembly from Badnera in Amravati, Maharashtra, and his wife Navneet Rana, member of Parliament, Amravati, stand.
To their credit, the couple, currently under judicial custody, is not aligned to any party. Both won their respective elections as independent candidates. However, it isn’t a secret that they were close to the Sharad Pawar-led Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), which was in an alliance with the Congress, when they won their last elections.
In fact, Navneet had viciously attacked Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the run-up to the 2019 general elections. She called him a "bachcha" and referred to Pawar as a "baap" in her speeches. But within just 10 days of her election, she announced her support for the BJP.
Ravi was a Congress-NCP-supported independent candidate in the Maharashtra assembly elections that followed soon after the 2019 general elections. However, when it became clear that there were differences between the BJP and Sena and that the latter could join the Congress-NCP, he sided with the BJP and Devendra Fadnavis.
And now, as the couple sits in judicial custody, still possibly dressed in saffron, it is Fadnavis who is their most vocal supporter.
The Hanuman Chalisa couple
Many leaders in the Shiv Sena believe that the party should have just ignored the Hanuman Chalisa threat. “Ravi and Navneet Rana would have arrived with a handful of their supporters. Police would not have let them get within sniffing distance of Matoshree [the Thackeray residence]. And that would have been it,” said a senior Sena leader.
He believes that by organising a big protest outside the Ranas’ Khar house in Mumbai, the Sena just played into their hands. “Very few people knew the Ranas outside Amravati. Now the whole country knows about them. And, of course, the loudspeakers issue [their removal from mosques] is now firmly in focus. The only saving grace for the Sena, if it can be called that, is that the Ranas have overshadowed Raj Thackeray,” he said.
The leader is right about the Rana couple catapulting into national imagination with the Hanuman Chalisa controversy. He is also right about many, even in Maharashtra, not knowing much about them.
Maharashtra is a massive state and Amravati is located on its northern edge, bordering Madhya Pradesh.
Rana, in fact, is not even a Maharashtrian family name. It is distinctly Rajasthani.
Nobody knows when Ravi’s grandfather moved from Rajasthan to Vidarbha, the drought-prone region of Maharashtra bordering Chhattisgarh, Telangana and Madhya Pradesh. Nobody in Ravi’s family had any link with politics.
Ravi’s father, Gangadhar Rana, worked at the wholesale grain market making gunny bags and his mother is a homemaker. They both live in Amravati.
There is very little known about how he got into politics. There is no record of his involvement in students’ politics in the two years of his junior college. Nor was he involved in local civic or district administration elections. Ravi never completed his graduation in commerce.
People in Amravati say that it was through his real estate dealings that he developed proximity to certain politicians and grew politically ambitious. Long before his first election to the legislative assembly in 2009, Ravi was known to be close to Baba Ramdev. He carried out a voter awareness programme with Baba Ramdev’s team in Badnera.
When he married Navneet, whom he met at Baba Ramdev’s yoga event in 2011, the wedding was attended by Sahara group head Subrata Roy. Ravi also runs a Patanjali distribution agency in Amravati.
Navneet is class 10 pass. She has appeared in music albums and Kannada, Tamil, Malayalam, Telugu, Punjabi and Hindi movies. Her parents live in Goregaon in Mumbai. Her brother runs a restaurant in Thane called Bombay Rolls. Navneet’s father is an ex-armyman and mother, a homemaker.
Navneet contested her first election in 2014. It was on an NCP ticket. But she lost to the Shiv Sena’s Anandrao Adsul. In 2019, she contested as an independent but was supported by the Congress-NCP. She defeated Adsul, with the latter battling anti-incumbency. Ravi has been an MLA since 2009.
Party-less power couple
Both Ravi and Navneet have never been popular within the parties they have courted. When supported by the Congress-NCP, they did not enjoy any cadre-level support from either of the two parties. Now, when they have sworn allegiance to the BJP, they have little ground-level support there too.
In fact, Ravi is facing desertion even within his own local outfit Yuva Swabhiman Party. “His constituency has around 15% Dalit voters and 8% Muslim voters. All his flirting with the BJP has not gone down well with the workers. Thirteen members of his party’s minority cell resigned recently,” says Sanjay Shende, Amravati correspondent of News Network 18, a Marathi news channel. Abdul Shaikh, Yuva Swabhiman Party’s minority cell head, says, “Since Navneet Rana’s support to the BJP, her support for real causes and commitment towards voters from minority community has dropped.”
People in Amravati believe that Navneet’s Hanuman Chalisa stunt is only aimed at making sure she secures a BJP ticket in 2024. But at least three senior BJP party workers, including a former mayor, are lobbying against her. But the 'party-lessness', if there is such a term, is the beauty of the couple’s political skills. They have the knack of developing close relationships with the top leaders of a party without even gaining as much as a foothold in the party.
But that, say their rivals, could be their undoing too. “You need a strong base of support to be a serious player in politics. With proximity to leaders and money power you can win elections, but where do you go from there,” says a leader in Amravati who has watched the Ranas’ rise closely.
But he did not discount that the couple may have finally figured this out and thus the aggressive outreach to the BJP. “The Hanuman Chalisa is their first political move outside Amravati. They are being backed by Fadnavis. That says something. Their past criticism of Modi seems to have been forgiven. They were granted an audience with the prime minister. Which is not a privilege that everyone gets,” he says. The only question now is whether the couple has dumped Pawar for good. Because that in Maharashtra has its own implications.