Since 1991, when future president Pratibha Patil won this seat, Amravati has not voted back the Congress. This time, Congress ally the NCP has fielded Navneet Kaur Rana, 28, former actress and wife of independent MLA Ravi Rana, better known as a realtor and distributor of Swami Ramdev’s Patanjali products.
Sharad Pawar, Ajit Pawar and R R Patil have toured the constituency to campaign for Navneet, but the glamour has been offset by personal attacks and a revolt in the NCP, whose leaders admit the disarray has hurt the party’s chances.
Amravati is considered the most important centre in Vidarbha after Nagpur. Despite a number of schools and colleges, unemployment is high and migration rampant. The district includes Melghat, the hilly belt afflicted by malnutrition.
Leading the revolt against Navneet is influential leader Sanjay Khodke, since dismissed by the NCP, an old rival of Ravi Rana. Khodke’s wife Sulbha won an assembly election here in 2004 and lost in 2009 to Rana. “Ravi Rana used money power to defeat my wife. How can the party nominate his wife despite that?” Khodke says. “Navneet’s background is questionable. I requested Sharad Pawar to name Gunvant Deopare the candidate and he agreed but the state leadership vetoed his decision.”
Comments Khodke made against Navneet resulted in his expulsion for “anti-party activities and lowering a woman’s dignity”. Khodke is now backing Deopare, who is contesting on a BSP ticket. “The treatment meted out to me has angered many NCP workers and they are now working for Deopare, who has a good image,” says Khodke.
The contest here has traditionally been between the Shiv Sena and Dalit groups such as the Republican Party of India (Gawai) whose founder R S Gawai was elected in 1998. Marathas are the dominant community while SCs and OBCs account for 4.5 lakh voters in this reserved seat.
This time, it is widely seen as a straight fight between Deopare and sitting Shiv Sena MP Anandrao Adsul, 67, who is confident the NCP’s infighting will see him through. His dream is to become a union minister and he believes the Narendra Modi wave will see him through; large posters show him alongside Modi.
Adsul too has targeted Navneet. Last month, a social activist, apparently at Adsul’s instance, filed a complaint alleging Navneet’s caste certificate is fake. A lower court ordered filing of an FIR but a Mumbai sessions court stayed the order. “Navneet and her father have submitted a forged school-leaving certificate to get an SC certificate. She will go to jail for this,” says Adsul.
Navneet, for her part, has filed a complaint against Adsul for harassment and character assassination alleging he circulated morphed pictures of her on WhatsApp. She also accuses Adsul of remarks against her character in a TV show. “I told the Election Commission I don’t even know what WhatsApp is, but the guilty should be brought to task,” he said.
Navneet married Rana in February 2011 at a mass wedding where the celebrity attendance included her icon Baba Ramdev, Prithviraj Chavan and Sahara’s Subrata Roy.