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.