Not an ‘easy take’ for Navneet Rana in Amravati 

The incumbent Independent MP, now contesting the seat on a BJP ticket, is battling discontent both from within and without

Updated - April 14, 2024 12:00 pm IST

Published - April 14, 2024 12:51 am IST - Amravati

File picture of BJP candidate Navneet Rana during an election rally before filing her nomination from the Amravati Lok Sabha constituency for the Lok Sabha polls, in Maharashtra on April 4, 2024

File picture of BJP candidate Navneet Rana during an election rally before filing her nomination from the Amravati Lok Sabha constituency for the Lok Sabha polls, in Maharashtra on April 4, 2024 | Photo Credit: PTI

In the bustling political scene of communally sensitive Amravati, actor-turned-Independent MP Navneet Kaur Rana is preparing for a role that, while familiar, comes with a new twist.

Though she isn’t a new face, the upcoming contest is unlikely to be an easy ride for her as she now steps into the electoral fray under the banner of the Bharatiya Janata Party, stirring discontent within the party and its allies.

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When The Hindu met her on Thursday, her campaign had temporarily halted due to Id-ul-Fitr. However, she remained busy meeting constituents seeking her assistance, from a desperate young father pleading for blood units for his hospitalised daughter to an elderly couple seeking help in saving their cattle shed from demolition. These events are also “meet and greet” with members of different communities, as her husband, three-time Independent MLA Ravi Rana, lends a helping hand.

Ms. Rana meets people, accepts their invitations, petitions, and obliges to several rounds of photographs. She is familiar with the challenges amidst unfamiliar dynamics, including the noticeable absence of BJP supporters at her residence, despite her being the party candidate. However, she tries to “ignore” them and says, “Neta, neta nahi banata hai. [Voters choose a leader, not the other way around].” Though local leaders are against her, voters are on her side, she said. “Recognising my work, Prime Minister [Narendra] Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah asked me to contest on a BJP ticket and I’m the first ever candidate to fight the Amravati Lok Sabha election on Lotus symbol,” the leader said.

Ms. Rana highlights her accessibility to constituents, her active presence and engagement in the area, particularly women who see her as a friend or “bhabhi” (sister-in-law).

She dismisses the challenges posed by the BJP’s allies and opponents in the elections. “Setting aside political differences, it’s crucial for all stakeholders to rally behind the BJP’s vision for regional development. It’s important to consider what tangible benefits an Opposition member can deliver to their constituency while sitting on the sidelines. A vote for me is a vote for PM Modi,” she said, adding that despite being an Independent MP, her constructive relationship with BJP leaders facilitated the implementation of several welfare projects in her constituency.

Speaking about her fake caste certificate row, she said, “I was struggling on another level. My kids were asking me, ‘What wrong have I done?’ I was depressed and demoralised. People trusted and voted for me. One day, the truth had to come out, and it came out in my favour. I thank the Supreme Court.”

Though she may shrug off opponents, for now, the sitting MP has a bigger problem on hand: Prahar Janshakti Party chief and MLA Bacchu Kadu, who is part of the ruling Mahayuti alliance, has fielded party leader Dinesh Bub from the seat in protest of her candidature. According to sources, local BJP leaders have not yet objected to Mr. Kadu’s move, as they don’t support Ms. Rana as well. “Maharashtra leaders were not involved in the talks, and she got her candidature cleared from Delhi, so they are clearly against it. As a result they have not opposed Mr. Kadu’s move which can prove fatal for BJP. But ultimately, BJP is a cadre-based party and once we get clear instructions, our cadre will follow it,” a senior BJP leader said. The Congress has fielded its sitting MLA Balwant Wankhede.

Responding to another allegation by her opponents that she is an outsider, Ms. Rana said, “I am the Bahu [daughter-in-law] of Amravati. A woman’s permanent residence is her in-laws’ place. If some treat me as an outsider, then they should definitely think of their own mother and wife and consider my position.”

The 38-year-old’s previous public declaration to recite the Hanuman Chalisa outside the then Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray’s residence, Matoshree, resulted in sedition charges against her, leading to her arrest and subsequent release. She started her career as an actor in the Telugu film industry and moved to politics after her marriage and contested her first Lok Sabha election from Amravati in 2014 on a Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) ticket but could not win. In 2019, she won the seat as an Independent candidate backed by NCP and Congress, defeating incumbent MP from Shiv Sena Anandrao Adsul by a margin of 36,951 votes.

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