Navneet Rana’s meteoric rise from silver screen to politics in a decade | Mumbai news - Hindustan Times
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Navneet Rana’s meteoric rise from silver screen to politics in a decade

Apr 05, 2024 09:47 AM IST

Navneet Rana's rise in politics from films to activism to candidature in Lok Sabha elections

MUMBAI: In the heat of seat-sharing deliberations last month a group of at least 15 local Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders, led by former state minister Pravin Pote-Patil, met deputy chief minister Devendra Fadnavis opposing the party’s move to give a ticket to independent MP Navneet Rana from Amravati, in Vidarbha. Fadnavis was appraised about a strong anti-wave against her within the party in the district. In 24 hours, the central BJP leadership announced her candidature.

New Delhi, India - May 11, 2022: Independent MP Navneet Rana during a press conference in New in New Delhi, India, on Wednesday, May 11, 2022. (Photo by Amal KS / Hindustan Times) (Hindustan Times)
New Delhi, India - May 11, 2022: Independent MP Navneet Rana during a press conference in New in New Delhi, India, on Wednesday, May 11, 2022. (Photo by Amal KS / Hindustan Times) (Hindustan Times)

It was a symbol of Rana’s national clout.

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As she filed her nomination on Thursday, in the presence of key BJP leaders such as Fadnavis and Chandrashekhar Bawankule, she said, “My detractors cornered me by levelling false allegations about my caste. They have been silenced by today’s Supreme Court ruling (which overturned the Bombay high court order of 2021 setting aside her scheduled caste certificate). I am thankful to people of Amravati who stood by me for 12 years. I am the daughter-in-law of the district.”

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Right place, right time

The 38-year-old actress-turned-politician’s walk into celebrity is the upshot of making good use of opportune moments.

She shot to fame in April 2022, when she, supported by her husband MLA Ravi Rana, took a cue from Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) chief Raj Thackeray’s demand to stop the use of loudspeakers in mosques during azaan (the early morning call to prayer). Thackeray rode the Hindutva wave by calling for kakad aarti to be performed at the same time in Shirdi and other places of worship in prominent temple towns using loudspeakers. Ranas took the campaign forward in Amravati where they distributed loudspeakers and encouraged people to recite the Hanuman Chalisa outside mosques.

They extended their protest with a resolve to chant the Hindu holy book outside then chief minister Uddhav Thackeray’s residence, training their guns on the Shiv Sena for supposedly shedding its Hindutva ideology by joining hands with the Congress and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) a few years ago.

The couple remained undeterred, despite police denying her permission. It led to a tussle with the Shiv Saniks who assembled outside Matoshree to support their leader. Ranas were arrested from their Khar residence and booked under sedition charges. They spent 14 days in custody; and managed to shine the spotlight on themselves.

A BJP leader recalled how the police machinery was under tremendous pressure at the time trying to restrain the couple. “Shiv Sainiks and party workers were out on the road against the Ranas, which was covered 24X7 on social media. The law-and-order situation in the country’s commercial capital was at stake. The legislators continued to hog the limelight even in jail when she alleged ill-treatment by Mumbai police,” said the BJP leader.

Through this incident she slipped into the good books of BJP, which managed to strike two birds with one stone – the party stood by her as she pushed the Hindutva agenda and also helped mount pressure on Uddhav Thackeray. “There was no way BJP could have denied her candidature in the present Lok Sabha election,” said the leader.

Meanwhile, overtime as her equity as a leader of consequence became strong, unrest surfaced among leaders from all parties as the couple sidelined everyone – local BJP leaders were unhappy with their ways.

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Rise in politics

Staunch Ramdev Baba followers, although 25-year-old Navneet Kaur married Badnera MLA Ravi Rana at a mass wedding in Amravati in February 2011, the ceremony was attended by big names, including then chief minister Prithviraj Chavan, Baba Ramdev himself, godmen Ramesh Ojha, Bhaiyyuji Maharaj, religious heads of Muslim, Buddhist and Christian communities, Mumbai-based businessman Sudhakar Shetty and industrialist Subrato Roy. The couple first met at a yoga camp in BKC.

The Mumbai girl ceased to pursue her formal education after Class 12 to make a career in films. She got her first break at 18 in a Telugu film, in 2004, and went on to act in 24 south Indian and Punjabi films in a short span of six years (2004-2010).

Although she decided to take a break from films at the time of her marriage, she did not return to face the arc lights. Her MLA husband fielded her in the 2014 Lok Sabha election as an NCP candidate when she polled 3.29 lakh votes, short of 1.39 lakh of Shiv Sena’s winning candidate Anandrao Adsul.

After that first foray, the Ranas decided to keep their options open amid the Modi wave and decided to fight as independents with the support of NCP and Congress in 2019 to swing the Muslim-Dalit votes. She won by 36,951 votes defeating sitting MP Adsul.

However, immediately after the elections, she aligned with the BJP after the saffron party returned to power with thumping majority.

“Ranas have their fingers on the pulse of the people. Navneet mingles among people, has a strong team of workers to take care of every need of the voters,” said Sanjay Pakhode, a journalist and political analyst from Amravati.

Navneet rose in politics on her husband’s political legacy, which started just over 15 years ago. Born in a poor family of four that lived in a two-room house in Shankar Nagar, Amravati city, Ravi was the elder son of a gunny sack vendor. Known for an aggressive style of protesting about public issues he was elected to the assembly as an independent representative from his social organisation Yuva Swabhimani Paksha.

“He was known to dole out freebies among people during Diwali, handcarts to hawkers, wheelchairs to the differently-abled – all of it helped him gain popularity. His links with Mumbai-based businessmen helped him establish himself as an MLA with a public face. When Navneet entered his life and politics, they proved complementary to each other,” said a local NCP leader.

It evidently became a well-tested formula. As the BJP leader noted, “The leaders of the party were confident about her elective merit and announced her as a party candidate a week before the Supreme Court verdict on her caste validity. The apex court termed her caste certificate valid just two hours before she reached the collector’s office to file her nomination, in the presence of party stalwarts.”

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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    Surendra P Gangan is Senior Assistant Editor with political bureau of Hindustan Times’ Mumbai Edition. He covers state politics and Maharashtra government’s administrative stories. Reports on the developments in finances, agriculture, social sectors among others.

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