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A Strongman, a Turncoat, a Rebel: Sawai Madhopur's 3-Way Fight in Gujjar Hands?

BJP strongman Kirodi Lal Meena is facing party rebel Asha Meena and Congress MLA Danish Abrar in Sawai Madhopur.

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"I will keep apologising to her, keep my footwear on my head if need be," said Dr Kirodi Lal Meena, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Rajya Sabha MP and the party's candidate for the Sawai Madhopur seat in Rajasthan in an election rally on 9 November, speaking of Asha Meena, a former BJP leader and now an independent candidate contesting against Kirodi Lal from the seat.

Many perceived the statement as an expression of worry by Kirodi Lal as the 72-year-old was making a pitch for his "last election" and urged Asha to withdraw her candidature to not let the BJP votes get divided.

Kirodi Lal is a leader who is politically senior to both Asha and sitting Congress MLA Danish Abrar. A political heavyweight irrespective of what party he has contested from, Kirodi Lal has not lost an election from various constituencies since 1998.
BJP strongman Kirodi Lal Meena is facing party rebel Asha Meena and Congress MLA Danish Abrar in Sawai Madhopur.

BJP's Sawai Madhopur candidate and Rajya Sabha MP Kirodi Lal Meena

(Photo Courtesy: Facebook/Kirodi lal Meena)

Having formerly been an MLA from the seat and a Lok Sabha MP for the Tonk-Sawai Madhopur Assembly constituency, he is one of the tallest leaders of the Meena community in Rajasthan.

So, why the signs of desperation this time?

Before understanding the ground reality behind the BJP fielding such a heavyweight, here's some quick political trivia:

  • Sawai Madhopur is the stronghold of BJP MP and Jaipur royal family member Diya Kumari, who is considered to be one of the front runners for the CM post.

  • In 2018, the BJP did not win a single seat in Sawai Madhopur.

  • Since 1951, barring Moti Lal Meena who won the seat twice in 1985 and 1990, no MLA has repeated any term, even non-consecutively.

  • Kirodi Lal Meena contested against Danish's mother Abrar twice in the past – as a BJP candidate in 2003 and a NPEP candidate in 2013. He had emerged victorious in 2003.

Production assistance: Koustubh Mukherjee

To grasp the mood of the Assembly constituency, here's a closer look at the three candidates and the issues surrounding each of them from the perspective of the Sawai Madhopur voters and political stakeholders.

A Strongman, a Turncoat, a Rebel: Sawai Madhopur's 3-Way Fight in Gujjar Hands?

  1. 1. Doctor Sahab: A Heavyweight Fighting His Last Election

    There are three key factors working in Kirodi Lal's favour:

    Political seniority in the Meena community:

    The tribal Meena voter of the state has traditionally backed the Congress. However, several party leaders and office-bearers of the BJP in Sawai Madhopur told The Quint that Kirodi Lal is one of the exceptions who has never really needed a specific party to command the community's loyalty.

    "He is a man of conviction which the entire Meena community knows of. He even did not shy away from resigning as the Cabinet minister and from the party when the rights of the community were being meddled with," said party worker of the Meena community, referring to the leader's resignation from the BJP in 2008 over the then Vasundhara Raje government's talks to give ST reservation to Gujjars.

    BJP strongman Kirodi Lal Meena is facing party rebel Asha Meena and Congress MLA Danish Abrar in Sawai Madhopur.

    After quitting the BJP in 2008, Meena joined the PA Sangma-led National People’s Party (NPP) in 2013.

    In what all leaders in Sawai Madhopur perceive as Meena's hold on the community in the state, he won as an independent candidate from Todabhim in 2008 as an NPP candidate from Lalsot in 2013. He even led the NPP, a party not known in Rajasthan, to win four seats in 2013.

    The 'Last Election' sentiment

    This time, however, the constituency is also running high on the 'doctor sahab ka aakhri chunaav' sentiment with the 72-year-old having insinuated so on several occasions.

    "A leader as senior as him deserves another chance. Yes, he has quit the BJP in the past but those were different times. He did what he felt was right by the community," a BJP worker from the Maksudanpura community said.

    The clout amongst the constituency's youth

    Meena has managed to garner significant clout in the state among the state's youth over the past few years with several 'exposes' and protests against corrupt practices and officials over the question paper leak scandals around government job examinations, this time a key poll plank of the BJP.

    Vijendra, a victim of RPSC second grade paper leak from the constituency backs Kirodi Lal for trying to expose the "corrupt system playing with the youth's future."

    BJP strongman Kirodi Lal Meena is facing party rebel Asha Meena and Congress MLA Danish Abrar in Sawai Madhopur.
    I am backing him because he has not just spoken about the issues like most leaders do but actually did something," said Mohesh, a BCom student who wants to be an RPSC officer.

    Meena has been at the forefront of holding press conferences and exposing those close to the Congress government who were involved in the paper leak nexus. Several of these allegations have also been followed up by the investigating agencies.

    Expand
  2. 2. The 'Rebel' Who Will Divide Meena Votes

    To understand what goes against Kirodi Lal, it is important to begin with Asha Meena, the former BJP leader who lost to sitting MLA Danish Abrar in 2018 by a significant margin.

    A heavyweight in the Meena community, experts believe that her candidature is what made the Kirodi Lal's battle more difficult for him and easier for Abrar.

    Throughout her campaign, Asha and her supporters have been playing the 'beti aur bahaari' (a daughter and an outsider) card to consolidate voters.
    BJP strongman Kirodi Lal Meena is facing party rebel Asha Meena and Congress MLA Danish Abrar in Sawai Madhopur.

    Having started her political career from zila parishad, both her father and her father-in-law have been sarpanchs from the Rendayal and Badolas villages respectively.

    The community sees Asha as a grassroots leader who has "not been parachuted from outside to win an election."

    "Asha ji's ancestors have contributed to the region. Doctor sahaab is undoubtedly a big leader. But more than party loyalty, we have to show gratitude to those who are from here," said Pandulal Meena, a local hailing from the Maksudanpura village.

    Local experts we spoke to believe that Kirodi Lal is the stringest candidate of all three but even if Asha manages to get over 20,000 votes, that will ring alarm bells for Kirodi Lal.

    BJP strongman Kirodi Lal Meena is facing party rebel Asha Meena and Congress MLA Danish Abrar in Sawai Madhopur.

    As per sources, attempts were made to persuade Asha to change her mind ahead of filing her candidature but when she showed no signs of backing out, the cadre was intimated that whoever helps her locally will face consequences.

    As she filed her nomination, Asha ensured a massive crowd accompanied her in a bid to show strength.

    "That was an indication to the party that she cannot be taken lightly," Pandulal said.

    Expand
  3. 3. The 'Turncoat' Who Will Divide Gujjar Votes

    "If it wasn't for these three MLAs, I would not have been standing in front of you as the chief minister today," chief minister Ashok Gehlot said in May 2021 as he thanked three first-time legislators – Deedwana MLA Chetan Dudi, Rajakhera MLA Rohit Bohra, and Sawai Madhopur's Danish Abrar.

    In 2018, Abrar won the constituency with a massive 25,000 votes, a massive feat for a first-timer and a loyalist of former deputy CM Sachin Pilot. Other than the SC/ST and Muslim votes, the Gujjars were Abrar's biggest voter base considering Pilot's clout in the community.

    Come September 2023, in an event organised to worship a deity of the Gujjars had Abrar facing slogans of 'Pilot ke gaddaron ko, goli maaro s****n ko...!'
    BJP strongman Kirodi Lal Meena is facing party rebel Asha Meena and Congress MLA Danish Abrar in Sawai Madhopur.

    To understand the anger, rewind to 2020 when Pilot rebelled against the Gehlot government and took the MLAs loyal to him at a resort in Haryana's Manesar. Abrar, Dudi, and Bohra were believed to be one of those 18 at the start of the rebellion. But as days progressed, the three MLAs returned to the Gehlot camp and also addressed the media to indicate that Pilot's 'plot' had been in the works for a few weeks before the rebellion began.

    In a move which many perceived as a reward, Gehlot made Abrar his advisor in May 2021.

    The Gujjars of Sawai Madhopur region still remember the 'gaddari'.

    A Gujjar local who attended the September event said: "We watch the news too. We know that the Congress might not form the government anyway. So, why not anyway punish the man who betrayed Pilot sahab?"

    The trouble, experts say, is that the Gujjars are unclear who they would vote for if not the Congress this time.

    The Meena and the Gujjars have traditionally been two communities at loggerheads. Moreover, Kirori Lal's protests and subsequent resignation from the BJP in 2008 over giving reservation to Gujjars still weighs down heavily on the community.

    BJP strongman Kirodi Lal Meena is facing party rebel Asha Meena and Congress MLA Danish Abrar in Sawai Madhopur.

    "It is possible that Gujjars might end up voting for Asha Meena eventually. Doctor sahab is wrongly perceived by many as 'anti-Gujjar' when all he was trying to do back then was not let Raje compromise on the quota for Meenas. He had suggested alternate options to her for giving reservation to Gujjars. So, he was never really against the community," a local BJP leader and a former member of the zila parishad told The Quint on the condition of anonymity.

    Expand

Doctor Sahab: A Heavyweight Fighting His Last Election

There are three key factors working in Kirodi Lal's favour:

Political seniority in the Meena community:

The tribal Meena voter of the state has traditionally backed the Congress. However, several party leaders and office-bearers of the BJP in Sawai Madhopur told The Quint that Kirodi Lal is one of the exceptions who has never really needed a specific party to command the community's loyalty.

"He is a man of conviction which the entire Meena community knows of. He even did not shy away from resigning as the Cabinet minister and from the party when the rights of the community were being meddled with," said party worker of the Meena community, referring to the leader's resignation from the BJP in 2008 over the then Vasundhara Raje government's talks to give ST reservation to Gujjars.

BJP strongman Kirodi Lal Meena is facing party rebel Asha Meena and Congress MLA Danish Abrar in Sawai Madhopur.

After quitting the BJP in 2008, Meena joined the PA Sangma-led National People’s Party (NPP) in 2013.

In what all leaders in Sawai Madhopur perceive as Meena's hold on the community in the state, he won as an independent candidate from Todabhim in 2008 as an NPP candidate from Lalsot in 2013. He even led the NPP, a party not known in Rajasthan, to win four seats in 2013.

The 'Last Election' sentiment

This time, however, the constituency is also running high on the 'doctor sahab ka aakhri chunaav' sentiment with the 72-year-old having insinuated so on several occasions.

"A leader as senior as him deserves another chance. Yes, he has quit the BJP in the past but those were different times. He did what he felt was right by the community," a BJP worker from the Maksudanpura community said.

The clout amongst the constituency's youth

Meena has managed to garner significant clout in the state among the state's youth over the past few years with several 'exposes' and protests against corrupt practices and officials over the question paper leak scandals around government job examinations, this time a key poll plank of the BJP.

Vijendra, a victim of RPSC second grade paper leak from the constituency backs Kirodi Lal for trying to expose the "corrupt system playing with the youth's future."

BJP strongman Kirodi Lal Meena is facing party rebel Asha Meena and Congress MLA Danish Abrar in Sawai Madhopur.
I am backing him because he has not just spoken about the issues like most leaders do but actually did something," said Mohesh, a BCom student who wants to be an RPSC officer.

Meena has been at the forefront of holding press conferences and exposing those close to the Congress government who were involved in the paper leak nexus. Several of these allegations have also been followed up by the investigating agencies.

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The 'Rebel' Who Will Divide Meena Votes

To understand what goes against Kirodi Lal, it is important to begin with Asha Meena, the former BJP leader who lost to sitting MLA Danish Abrar in 2018 by a significant margin.

A heavyweight in the Meena community, experts believe that her candidature is what made the Kirodi Lal's battle more difficult for him and easier for Abrar.

Throughout her campaign, Asha and her supporters have been playing the 'beti aur bahaari' (a daughter and an outsider) card to consolidate voters.
BJP strongman Kirodi Lal Meena is facing party rebel Asha Meena and Congress MLA Danish Abrar in Sawai Madhopur.

Having started her political career from zila parishad, both her father and her father-in-law have been sarpanchs from the Rendayal and Badolas villages respectively.

The community sees Asha as a grassroots leader who has "not been parachuted from outside to win an election."

"Asha ji's ancestors have contributed to the region. Doctor sahaab is undoubtedly a big leader. But more than party loyalty, we have to show gratitude to those who are from here," said Pandulal Meena, a local hailing from the Maksudanpura village.

Local experts we spoke to believe that Kirodi Lal is the stringest candidate of all three but even if Asha manages to get over 20,000 votes, that will ring alarm bells for Kirodi Lal.

BJP strongman Kirodi Lal Meena is facing party rebel Asha Meena and Congress MLA Danish Abrar in Sawai Madhopur.

As per sources, attempts were made to persuade Asha to change her mind ahead of filing her candidature but when she showed no signs of backing out, the cadre was intimated that whoever helps her locally will face consequences.

As she filed her nomination, Asha ensured a massive crowd accompanied her in a bid to show strength.

"That was an indication to the party that she cannot be taken lightly," Pandulal said.

0

The 'Turncoat' Who Will Divide Gujjar Votes

"If it wasn't for these three MLAs, I would not have been standing in front of you as the chief minister today," chief minister Ashok Gehlot said in May 2021 as he thanked three first-time legislators – Deedwana MLA Chetan Dudi, Rajakhera MLA Rohit Bohra, and Sawai Madhopur's Danish Abrar.

In 2018, Abrar won the constituency with a massive 25,000 votes, a massive feat for a first-timer and a loyalist of former deputy CM Sachin Pilot. Other than the SC/ST and Muslim votes, the Gujjars were Abrar's biggest voter base considering Pilot's clout in the community.

Come September 2023, in an event organised to worship a deity of the Gujjars had Abrar facing slogans of 'Pilot ke gaddaron ko, goli maaro s****n ko...!'
BJP strongman Kirodi Lal Meena is facing party rebel Asha Meena and Congress MLA Danish Abrar in Sawai Madhopur.

To understand the anger, rewind to 2020 when Pilot rebelled against the Gehlot government and took the MLAs loyal to him at a resort in Haryana's Manesar. Abrar, Dudi, and Bohra were believed to be one of those 18 at the start of the rebellion. But as days progressed, the three MLAs returned to the Gehlot camp and also addressed the media to indicate that Pilot's 'plot' had been in the works for a few weeks before the rebellion began.

In a move which many perceived as a reward, Gehlot made Abrar his advisor in May 2021.

The Gujjars of Sawai Madhopur region still remember the 'gaddari'.

A Gujjar local who attended the September event said: "We watch the news too. We know that the Congress might not form the government anyway. So, why not anyway punish the man who betrayed Pilot sahab?"

The trouble, experts say, is that the Gujjars are unclear who they would vote for if not the Congress this time.

The Meena and the Gujjars have traditionally been two communities at loggerheads. Moreover, Kirori Lal's protests and subsequent resignation from the BJP in 2008 over giving reservation to Gujjars still weighs down heavily on the community.

BJP strongman Kirodi Lal Meena is facing party rebel Asha Meena and Congress MLA Danish Abrar in Sawai Madhopur.

"It is possible that Gujjars might end up voting for Asha Meena eventually. Doctor sahab is wrongly perceived by many as 'anti-Gujjar' when all he was trying to do back then was not let Raje compromise on the quota for Meenas. He had suggested alternate options to her for giving reservation to Gujjars. So, he was never really against the community," a local BJP leader and a former member of the zila parishad told The Quint on the condition of anonymity.

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The elections in the Sawai Madhopur region are being driven by a prestige tussle between the Congress and the BJP. The saffron party did not win any seats in Sawai Madhopur in 2018.

However, Pilot's 'charm' still being a force to reckon with, and the division of both Meena votes and Gujjar votes are a worrying signs for both the BJP and the Congress this time.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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