IN A fast-escalating situation in Mumbai over recital of Hanuman Chalisa in public, two legislators were arrested after the Shiv Sena laid a siege at their home, a BJP leader was assaulted exiting a police station, and the Opposition alleged a complete breakdown of law and order in Maharashtra.
At the heart of the incidents, coming a day ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Mumbai, were the husband and wife duo of MLA Ravi Rana and MP Navneet Rana — independent legislators used to never being far from the limelight, from sharing the silver screen with southern heroes like Captain Vijayakanth and Mammootty, to Baba Ramdev playing Cupid at their wedding at a mass ceremony.
While MNS chief Raj Thackeray called first for Hanuman Chalisa to be recited in public if mosques continued to use loudspeakers for azaan and other pronouncements, the Ranas scaled this up by threatening to do so in front of Maharashtra Chief Minister and Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray’s private residence Matushree.
On Saturday evening, hours after the Ranas announced they were giving up the plan, police arrested them on the charge of “creating enmity between different groups”, amid high drama.
Later in the evening, BJP leader Kirit Somaiya who visited Khar Police Station, where they Mumbai Hanuman Chalisa row builds up to, jail, and Independent legislator duo were kept, was attacked by Sena workers, who pelted stones and chappals on his vehicle while he was leaving. Somaiya sustained injuries on his face.
Slamming what had happened, Maharashtra Leader of the Opposition Devendra Fadnavis said: “If the Mumbai Police can’t provide security to a person with Z-plus security then it represents a breakdown in the law and order of the city. Police are acting like servants of this government and democracy is being trampled in this state.”
Before the Ranas were arrested, Shiv Sena workers laid siege to the building where they stay, demanding that they apologise before they would be allowed to leave. They also tried to force their way into the building, but were stopped by police.
Officers then persuaded the couple to come to Khar Police Station with them. The couple initially resisted, telling police they would not budge until criminal cases were also registered against Shiv Sena leaders who had “threatened” them. Later, they were led away in police vehicles, and booked.
The Ranas also submitted a complaint asking Mumbai Police to register a case against Uddhav Thackeray, and Sena leaders Anil Parab, Sanjay Raut apart from 500 other Sena workers for allegedly attacking their house at Khar and Amravati. They claimed a plan to “eliminate” them. Mumbai Police registered a case against several Shiv Sena workers based on the complaint.
Modi will be in Mumbai Sunday to receive the first Lata Dinanath Mangeshkar Award, instituted in memory of Lata Mangeshkar.
The dominant political brain among the Rana couple is seen to be Ravi Rana, 43, a three-time independent MLA hailing from Amaravati, who represents Badnera seat.
Ravi Rana’s mercurial rise began with this seat, which he wrested in 2009 as an independent against an NCP candidate. Rana’s following among the youth is believed to have helped, with his rivals’ dismissal of him as “Flex Kumar” — for his pinchant for putting up flex posters with his picture – cutting little ice. As his political graph rose in the region, so did his land holdings, allege rivals.
His wife Navneet Rana, 36, grew up 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 ‘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 married in 2011 at a mass wedding ceremony organized by the Yoga guru alongside over 3,000 couples.
For many in Amravati, what puts the Ranas apart from other politicians is their political fluidity, untethered to any 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 Center 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 still supporting the BJP-Sena government in Maharashtra.
The Amravati 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. 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 fought the Amravati Lok Sabha seat again, as an independent candidate with NCP support, and this time defeated 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 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 canceled 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 for allegedly assaulting the Amravati Municipal Commissioner. Rana claims he was not present at the spot at the time of the incident.
On Saturday, Sena MP Sanjay Raut challenged Navneet Rana to get elected from the Amravati Lok Sabha seat again, adding: “We urge them (the Ranas) not to mess with the Shiv Sena. Don’t disturb Matoshree. Else, they will be buried 20 feet below.”