On 16 January 2016, in Aklera, a town in the Jhalawar district of Rajasthan, a mob led by Kanwar Lal Meena, the local representative of the Bhartiya Janata Party, rampaged through the streets, aiming their lathis at a group of activists and their vehicles. The activists belonged to the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS), a non-profit organisation in Rajasthan, founded by Aruna Roy and Nikhil Dey. It is not clear what caused this uproar. The activists had been carrying out a rally—the Jawabdehi Yatra, which culminated day before yesterday in front of the state parliament—to spread awareness about state welfare schemes and record local grievances against the administration. That day, a gathering of about 60 had reached Teen-Battitiraha, an intersection in Aklera at around 4 pm. An hour later, they found themselves under attack.
Meena, the local BJP legislator, represents the Manohar Thana constituency in the state assembly. His brightly-dressed figure is conspicuous in the images and video recordings of the incident—leading a pack of hoodlums, swinging lathis at people. The mob injured about a dozen people, broke cameras, and shattered windows of the vehicles standing nearby.
The parliamentary constituency of Jhalawar has been the BJP’s backyard since 1989, when Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje won her first Lok Sabha seat from the district. Raje kept the seat until 2003, when her son, Dushyant Singh, took over. Singh has been successively victorious in the elections since then, and still represents Jhalawar in the Lok Sabha. So complete has been the control of the BJP, that the Congress leaders of the state refer to Jhalawar as “Madam ka zilla”—“Madam” Raje’s zilla. Since 1998, Meena told me he had been working at the Block Office in Aklera, eventually becoming the Block Officer. In 2014, he was elected to his current post.
After the incident, the MKSS filed a First Information Report against Meena. This, however, was not the first FIR against him. “Everyone who lives in Jhalawar knows that KL Meena is a goon,” Madan Lal, a former MLA from the district with the Congress party, told me over phone. (Lal had been elected on a seat reserved for Scheduled Castes, when the BJP didn’t have a candidate to field.)
His claim is hard to refute. A response to a Right To Information query filed after the MKSS attack revealed that there were 20 cases registered against Meena. These go as far back as August 2003, when he allegedly vandalised a mosque in the area. The case is still being heard in the district court. Since then, Meena has been named in FIRs for starting fires to destroy property, blocking highways, intimidating the police, and destroying copies of the Quran. “In the 2014 elections, they gave me the ticket,” he told me over phone in February. When the BJP won all eight Vidhan Sabha seats from Jhalawar in the last assembly elections, one of the victories was in Meena’s name. Lal told me that Meena also runs a private hospital in Jhalawar; “when people had come for inspection of the facilities there, he had beaten them up and forcefully gotten the certificate,” Lal told me.
Four of the 20 complaints against Meena are still pending; regarding the others, he says, his name has been cleared. I asked Meena about these compaints. “They are all politically motivated, an attempt to tarnish my image,” he claimed. “The court has cleared my name in all but three or four of these.” He said that he did not remember which of the cases were still pending.
A day after the incident, the state BJP head, Ashok Parnami, sent Meena a notice regarding his actions, asking to reply within a week. “I have replied,” Meena told me. “See, I had gone there because some miscreants were rioting in the area and since I live close by, it was my duty to go there and get the situation under control. That’s what I did. Had I not gone there, rioters—who were associated with the Congress MLAs of the area—would have burned down the vehicles.”
Meena’s defence of the incident was hard to believe, since in the videos he can be clearly seen leading the crowd and swinging lathis on the activists. I contacted the BJP state office. The party’s state media convener, Pinksh Porwal, directed me to the State Disciplinary Committee of the BJP, which looks into matters concerning alleged “out of line” behaviour of the party members. I asked Madanlal Saini, a member of the committee, about follow-ups on the notice sent to Meena. Saini told me that he was not aware that a notice had been sent by Parnami. “I do not think that we have even sent the notice so far,” he told me. I told him that there had been news reports about the notice and that Meena told me he had even responded to it. “We did meet about that thing, and decided that he should be sent a notice,” Saini continued. “It takes time you see, we have to look for papers on which the notice has to be typed,” he said, before adding, “I am not sure how he could have replied. Rammanohar Dudy, who heads the committee hasn’t been around, so I sign on the notices, and I have not.”
I asked him if many such cases came to the committee. “Not too many,” he said, “The number goes up around elections. Now elections are done.” Saini added that since October, he had seen 194 cases. “We have terminated 19 members—they were involved in anti-party activities. 43 notices have been served, and 90 cases have been dismissed.” What was the nature of the cases that were dismissed? “These did not involve anti-party activities. They were minor offences,” Saini said. “So we just give them a warning: kah dete hain ki aage se mat karna”—we tell them, don’t do it again.
Though over 10 people who attacked the group at Teen-Battitiraha were arrested by the police, Meena has not faced any consequences. Unlike the previous complaints against him, the one filed by the MKSS will not be immediately investigated: in Rajasthan, criminal cases registered against sitting legislators can only be investigated by the crime branch of the state CID. There are, reportedly, about 125 such cases pending in the state that go as far back as 15 years. It will likely be a while before the crime branch can come to Kanwar Lal Meena. In one of the recordings of the MKSS incident, you can hear some bystanders talking. “Kanwar Lalji and others are beating people up … smashing vehicles,” one is saying. Another wonders aloud: “Are they”—the people in the vehicles—“Muslims?”
Atul Dev is a staff writer at The Caravan.