From sharing the silver screen with southern heroes like Captain Vijayakanth and Mammootty to Baba Ramdev playing Cupid and asking them to tie the knot at a mass wedding ceremony, the husband and wife duo of MLA Ravi Rana and MP Navneet Rana are never far from the limelight – their Independent status a blessing in disguise.
This past week, they also find themselves at the heart of the Hanuman Chalisa row, starting with Raj Thackeray’s demand to recite the same in public if mosques continued to use loudspeakers for azaan and other announcements.
On Saturday evening, the Mumbai Police arrested Ravi and Navneet Rana on the charge of “creating enmity between different groups”, after escorting them out of their house in suburban Khar amid high drama.
Hailing from Amravati district, the dominant political brain between the couple is seen to be Ravi Rana, 43, a three-time Independent MLA, who represents Badnera seat.
Ravi Rana’s mercurial rise began with this seat, which he wrested in 2009 while contesting as an Independent against the Nationalist Congress Party candidate. Rana’s substantial following among the youth is believed to have helped, with his rivals’ dismissive references to him as “Flex Kumar” — for his penchant for putting up flex posters with his picture across town – cutting little ice. As his political graph rose in the region, so did his land holdings, allege rivals.
His wife Navneet Rana, 36, was born in a Punjabi family and raised in Mumbai. In 2004, she entered the tinsel world with a Kannada film. In a conversation earlier with The Indian Express, she had said: “I have worked with well-known film stars Vijayakanth, Junior NTR, Mammootty. I am proficient in seven languages.”
A chance meeting with Baba Ramdev changed the script of her story. Ravi Rana was already in Ramdev’s good books after organising one of his numerous ‘Yog Shivirs’ in Amravati. The two of them are said to have met at one such Yog Shivir, and got the final nudge to tie the knot by Ramdev himself. The two finally married in 2011 at a mass wedding ceremony organised by the Yoga guru alongside over 3,000 couples.
For many in Amravati, what makes the Ranas stand apart from other politicians is their political fluidity – unrestricted by any bounds of party discipline by virtue of their ‘Independent’ status. This has allowed them to overcome political divides with great felicity, particularly leaning towards the ruling side in Maharashtra.
For example, despite Ravi Rana spearheading various agitations in Maharashtra planned by Ramdev against the Congress-led UPA government at the Centre before 2014, wife Navneet Rana had managed to get a ticket from UPA constituent NCP, to take on sitting Shiv Sena MP Anandrao Adsul from Amravati, in the 2014 Lok Sabha election.
This ticket didn’t prevent the Ranas from also simultaneously supporting the BJP-Sena government in Maharashtra.
The Amravati Lok Sabha fight was the first time the Ranas found themselves in personal conflict with the Shiv Sena, with Navneet complaining of harassment by Adsul, and breaking down on live TV while narrating the same. The episode did not help her though, and she lost the election.
In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the duo placed their bets on the Congress-NCP. Navneet Rana fought the Amravati Lok Sabha seat again, as an Independent candidate with the NCPs support, this time emerging victorious against Adsul.
After the close 2019 Legislative Assembly elections in Maharashtra, the Ranas flipped again. Ravi Rana sided with the BJP, offering to elicit support for the party from other Independent MLAs as well. Once the NCP, Sena and Congress pipped the BJP to power, the Ranas went back to being “neutral”.
The current row, where the couple have threatened to recite the Hanuman Chalisa on loudspeakers outside Matoshree, indicates a return once more to the BJP.
Sources said the latest U-turn was the result of Adsul accusing Navneet Rana of fudging her caste to contest from the Amravati Lok Sabha seat, which is reserved for Scheduled Castes. In March 2021, Navneet complained to Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla that Shiv Sena MP Arvind Sawant had threatened her.
In June 2021, the Bombay High Court cancelled Navneet’s caste certificate. Her appeal against the order is pending in the Supreme Court.
In January this year, the ties between the Ranas and the Shiv Sena saw another dip when Ravi Rana was booked for attempt to murder over an assault on the Amravati Municipal Commissioner. Rana claims he was not present at the spot at the time of the incident. Investigations are on.