When the BJP was the principal Opposition in Rajasthan during 2018-2023, party veteran Kirodi Lal Meena regularly made news for his protests against the then Ashok Gehlot-led Congress government.

Although he is now a minister in the BJP-led government in the state, Meena 72, continues to grab headlines, living up to his image as a perennial rebel.

A month after the Lok Sabha poll results, which saw the BJP suffering a setback in Rajasthan, Meena has now said he has submitted his resignation from the party cabinet.

In the run-up to the Lok Sabha polls, Meena had said that if the party would lose from the Dausa seat or any of the seven Lok Sabha constituencies in eastern Rajasthan, he would resign as a minister.

However, his resignation has not been accepted by Chief Minister Bhajan Lal Sharma so far.

Festive offer

Meena currently holds four portfolios, including Agriculture and Horticulture, Rural Development, Disaster Management and Relief and Civil Defence, and Redressal of Public Litigation. In the government hierarchy, he is considered next only to CM Sharma and Deputy CMs, Diya Kumari and Prem Chand Bairwa.

Rebel in Opposition

During the tenure of the Gehlot government, Meena, a Rajya Sabha MP at the time, used to be in the limelight for his regular protests, hitting the road more often than many of his party colleagues and emerging as an almost parallel force in the state. BJP.

From addressing press conferences and making “revelations” about the alleged involvement of people close to the Congress regime in leaks of government recruitment exam papers, to “self-styled raids” with the media in tow, the issues Meena raised were often picked up later. by the state BJP, sometimes reluctantly.

Meena was among the first Opposition leaders to allege in 2021 that the Rajasthan Eligibility Exam for Teachers (REET) question paper had been leaked, putting the Gehlot government on the back foot. His protests became more intense as the Assembly elections approached last year. In early 2023, he sat on dharna with the wives of soldiers who lost their lives in the 2019 Pulwama attack, accusing the government of “non-fulfillment of promises”.

What worked in his favor was that central agencies such as the Enforcement Directorate (ED) and the Income Tax (IT) Department often followed up on his allegations in various cases such as the REET paper leak, the alleged Rs 20,000 crore Jal Jeevan Mission/ PHED scam where ED conducted raids on then Public Health Engineering Department minister Mahesh Joshi, and the alleged black money in lockers in Jaipur’s Ganpati Plaza. The Congress cited this to allege the misuse of investigating agencies by the BJP.

Meena also stumped authorities on several occasions. For instance, in 2021, he dodged the police and hoisted a flag of the Meena community at the Amagarh Fort in Jaipur following a controversy over a saffron flag being taken down at the fort. The action came even as the tribal leaders accused the Hindu groups of making attempts to appropriate tribal symbols. Meena is a sworn proponent of Hindutva. While most tribal politicians assert that tribals do not come under the Hindu fold, he argues the opposite.

Rebel in govt

Despite being senior to the CM Sharma and the two Deputy CMs, Meena, a former Rajya Sabha MP, two-time Lok Sabha MP and six-term MLA was inducted in the BJP government as just a minister, which many of his followers say was “Inadequate for a person of his stature”.

Although he was given the Agriculture portfolio, the Rural Development and Panchayati Raj Department was divided between him and Madan Dilawar, with Meena allotted the Rural Development and Dilawar given the Panchayati Raj ministry.

Sources said that splitting this department tied Meena’s hands, who is used to operating solo freely. Moreover, his new role as a cabinet minister restricted his independent streak as he has to now toe the lines set by the government and the party.

Earlier this year, first-time BJP MLA Balmukundacharya made comments against students wearing hijab at government schools. While other party leaders avoided commenting on the issue, Meena jumped in, fueling the row by calling for a hijab ban in all government and private schools in the state.

During the Lok Sabha campaign, he was in the news for snapping at the audience in some rallies and also announcing that he will resign as a minister if the party loses the Dausa seat, part of the region which is considered his stronghold.

Apart from Dausa, the BJP also lost Tonk-Sawai Madhopur, Karauli-Dholpur, and Bharatpur Lok Sabha seats in eastern Rajasthan, even as thanks to its performance in eastern Rajasthan and the Shekhawati region, the Congress-led Opposition alliance managed to win 11 seats out of the state’s 25 as against the ruling party’s 14 seats.

In recent weeks Meena has constantly been in the headlines for writing letters to the CM, alleging irregularities in various government projects. The first letter was about a potential loss of Rs 1,146 crore to the exchequer in a multi-storey government housing project, which marked the first alleged scam under the Bhajan Lal dispensation.

In another letter, Meena cited a CAG report to allege a massive scam in the Rajasthan State Warehousing Corporation. Then, he alleged that although he had unearthed a Rs 20,000 crore Jal Jeevan Mission (JJM) scam in the Gehlot government, there are still some irregularities being done in the JJM on the watch of the current government too.

Some BJP leaders see Meena’s actions as an attempt to stay relevant. “After the LS voting, Meena must have gotten wind of the party’s situation in eastern Rajasthan and so he started writing letters to reinforce his image as a public leader,” said one of them.

By submitting his resignation, Meena would also hope to draw sympathy or respect for keeping his word.

In and out of BJP

Meena, who holds an MBBS degree, is known by monikers such as “Doctor Sahab” and “Baba”.

He was associated with the RSS in his student days and was arrested during the Emergency period. Over the decades, he has been detained and arrested numerous times, including in Ayodhya for demanding the construction of the Ram Temple.

He was first elected to the Assembly from Mahwa in Dausa district in 1985 on a BJP ticket. In 1989, he won his first Lok Sabha election.

He was a cabinet minister in the first Vasundhara Raje government from 2003 to 2008. As differences with Raje cropped up, he left the BJP in 2008. Before the 2013 Assembly elections, he joined the PA Sangma-led National People’s Party (NPEP). Again, his political heft was on display as he helped a party unknown in Rajasthan bag four Assembly seats.

From 2013 to early 2018, Meena was a vocal critic of the Raje government. Then, in March 2018, in a surprise move, he returned to the BJP, appearing on the stage with Raje, who at that time was dealing with severe anti-incumbency. The party promptly sent Meena to the Rajya Sabha.

Accounting for 13.48% of Rajasthan’s population, tribals are a significant vote bank. Meenas are in a majority among them. While the community has traditionally been the Congress’s voters, Meena has forged a base among them for her party, especially in eastern Rajasthan districts with a high tribal population. In the Assembly elections held in November 2023, Meena won from the Sawai Madhopur seat.