She married a don… a criminal

It is tough to associate an English speaking urban woman with an underworld don, particularly if she is his wife.

I had watched Ranjeet Ranjan on a television show. She was very articulate and somewhat firebrand. More than the programme I watched Ranjeet. How, I asked myself, could she have married a don? And why would she do that? I also spotted her in Parliament in her role as an MP.

It was very difficult to associate the two: her husband Rajesh Ranjan, better known  as Pappu Yadav. An underworld don who was convicted for murder and one who contested and won the Lok Sabha elections from a jail in Bihar. Ranjeet Ranjan, a smart, trousers clad, sportswoman who was born in Bihar, brought up in Jammu, studied in Punjab and settled in Delhi. More still: Her ancestors were Kashmiri pandits turned Sikhs. “Formerly Raina, now Kaur” to quote her cousin Rahul Nagar. Children: Two, studying in Delhi’s elite schools.

Consequently, when I met Ranjeet for the first time, I was blunt: “Why did you marry a don… a criminal?” Without batting an eyelid she shot back: Bas ho gayee… (Just happened).

Whether it “just happened” or was forced to happen in a state where Pappu Yadav was a terror and a mafia don, is unclear. What is clear is that he spotted her on the tennis courts in Patna. She was a state champion and he a ruffian. And it was certainly not love. He made enquiries, phoned her and “proposed” marriage. At least this was  Ranjit’s story to me and the rest of the world.  Quite understandable because they have kids who, while they dote on the mother, have several questions about their father.

Their son, Sarthak, has had tense moments when seniors in school have said nasty things about his father. Particularly bad were days when newspapers headlined Yadav’s murder charges and flashed his mug shots. He had then refused to go back to school.  Ranjeet locked herself up in Babaji’s room and prayed that God show her the path. Later, she told her son to be bold and fight odds. In a nutshell: Never give up. A lesson Life, perhaps, taught Ranjeet post marriage.

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Born to a Sikh family, Ranjit’s father served in the Army. He took premature retirement to pursue a spiritual path. When Ranjeet’s marriage to Pappu was solemnized, it was in a gurudwara according to Sikh rites: “Pappu wore a turban and repeated vows from the Guru Granth Saheb” she recalls.

This, initially, was a ploy to dissuade Pappu from marrying Ranjit: “We thought if we ask him to convert he will change his mind”. But not Pappu who said: “Sardar banoonga, Bihar ke bahar rahoonga”. (I will convert and stay out of Bihar). Yet, given his track record, Ranjit’s family had reservations. Her marriage led to their excommunication.

On her part, Ranjit detests khadiwallas (politicians). It is but ironic that apart from being betrothed to one, she is now an MP in the Lok Sabha:

Ek din mein sab badal gayaa” (Everything changed overnight).

For someone who nurtured a desire to reach where athlete P.T.Usha had, Ranjeet came to grips with reality. All of nineteen, she vowed to do or die.

The first task: if reforming her don cum politician husband was a far cry, she would stump his network: “Pehle brake lagayee phir sudhara” (First I applied brakes and then reformed him). For starters, she shooed away his cronies who had accompanied them on their honeymoon. Gradually she ensured that meals would be, strictly, a  family affair. Not easy because Pappu was lost without his henchmen. Neither was he willing to hear bitter truths about his own life. For him, it alternated between “jail and bail”.  Ranjeet quite candidly told me: “He has been jail more than he has at home” With a murder charge pending against him, a bitter legal battle awaits him.

Her political debut was not something she had neither worked towards nor wished for. She was pushed because her husband was contesting the elections from jail and could not campaign physically. She did and he won. However in 2004, she jumped into the fray as a candidate and was elected to Lok Sabha.

Even though she would like people to believe that it was her husband who pushed her into active politics, it seems that Ranjit had decided to emerge on her own. This is evident from the fact that she talks a great deal about “identity”. Signs of this are visible when I drove into their official residence in Lutyen’s Delhi. Ofcourse the lush green lawns were being used for drying literally dirt linen and even at the risk of being arrogant, I must say that I noticed  unbathed Biharis all around. A group was playing “bat ball” (cricket) while another was waiting for “netaji” (Pappu Yadav).

I immediately noticed that individual nameplates flanked the entrance.

Ranjeet Ranjan and Rajesh Ranjan urf (alias) Pappu Yadav.  Talking to me she was quite upfront about this: “Yes I want to be known for myself. I want to fight for issues like women’s empowerment rather than being my husband’s proxy”.  Yet she concedes that politically her husband “a five time MP” is more successful that her “single termer” status.

This she was honest enough to tell me was because his network was strong.

Contrast this to her agenda of issue based politics and she is not sure if her electorate will back her. But she will, she told me, take the risk. In any case, the air conditioners in Parliament give her zukaam (activate her sinuses)

Channi to her parents, Ranjeet is the youngest of eight siblings. Her friends called her chashmuli because she was bespectacled. She played pranks and was often spanked. She studied agriculture in the University of Punjab and played tennis at the national level. Her dream of winning a gold in the Olympics ended with marriage. Like did a lot else.

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