BJP Rajya Sabha MP Kirodi Lal Meena caused an uproar in the Opposition benches Friday by introducing a Private Member’s Bill on the Uniform Civil Code.
While spotlight in the Rajya Sabha is rare for him, Kirodi Lal is never far from the news cycle in his home state of Rajasthan, where the 70-year-old is known as a perennial protester.
He is also a strong proponent of the BJP’s Hindutva ideology, unlike other leaders of the tribals, who assert that they do not come under the Hindu fold. Hence, the UCC move by Kirodi Lal may not be a surprising move.
An MBBS graduate, Kirodi Lal was first elected to the state Assembly from Mahwa in Dausa district in 1985 on a BJP ticket. In 1989, he won his first Lok Sabha election.
At 13.48% of Rajasthan’s population, tribals are a significant vote bank in the state. Of them, the Meenas are a majority. While they have traditionally been voters of the Congress, Kirodi Lal has forged a base for the BJP among them, winning consistently in elections in districts of eastern Rajasthan with a high tribal population, despite shifting constituencies. His ability to draw crowds is one of his greatest assets.
Between 2003-2008, Kirodi Lal was a Cabinet minister in the first Raje-led Rajasthan government. Differences with her had led him to leave the party in 2008.
Given Kirodi’s clout, the Congress was only too willing to oblige him and accommodated his wife Golma Devi, who won the 2008 Assembly elections as an Independent, as a minister in the then Gehlot government of 2008-13. That tenure, though, proved short-lived, with Golma quitting in four months, claiming Congress leaders were insulting her husband.
In the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, Kirodi Lal contested from Dausa as an Independent and won, defeating both the BJP and the Congress candidates. This was a sweet victory for him, having lost from Dausa in 1996 to Congress stalwart Rajesh Pilot.
Before the 2013 Assembly elections, Kirodi Lal joined the P A Sangma-led National People’s Party (NPP). Again, his pulling power was on display when he helped a party unknown in Rajasthan to win four seats in the state. The election also saw Raje return to power in the state with a thumping majority, with the BJP winning 163 of the 200 seats in the Assembly.
From 2013 to early 2018, Kirodi Lal was a vociferous critic of the Raje government, mostly on issues pertaining to the community, including the confusion in spelling between Mina and Meena, which affected the availing of reservation by community members. In 2016, police booked Kirodi Lal along with 12 others in a case of alleged gangrape. The case was transferred to the CID-CB by the Raje government, and is yet to see any progress. He also talked of building a third front to provide an alternative to the Congress and the BJP.
But then, in March 2018, in a surprise move, Kirodi Lal returned to the BJP, appearing on stage with Raje, who at that time was dealing with severe anti-incumbency. The party promptly made Kirodi Lal a Rajya Sabha MP, which he remains since then.
In the elections that followed, the BJP performed miserably in the Meena-dominated eastern Rajasthan, which also has a significant Gujjar population — a vote bank of Congress leader Sachin Pilot. While detractors of Kirodi Lal said the BJP’s defeat showed his grip was loosening in the region, he has maintained that despite re-inducting him in the party, the BJP has not given him a free hand in ticket distribution.
While he might have spent 10 years outside the BJP, Kirodi Lal, known by monikers such as ‘Doctor Sahab’ and ‘Baba’, is a sworn proponent of the party’s Hindutva ideology. Last year, when a controversy broke out over a saffron flag being taken down at Jaipur’s Amagarh Fort in the presence of tribal leaders, who accused Hindu groups of trying to appropriate tribal symbols, Kirodi Lal led the pushback against other Meena leaders such as Independent MLA Ramkesh Meena. Later, the 70-year-old dodged the police and hoisted a flag of the Meena community over the fort.
While several Meena leaders questioned his “duplicity”, asking why Kirodi Lal did not put up a “Hindu (saffron)” flag given his beliefs, Congress MLAs such as Murari Lal Meena urged the government not to take any action against him, cutting across party lines.
Only a handful of Meena politicians, including Congress MLA Ramesh Meena, have publicly challenged Kirodi Lal’s position in the community. Over the last year, Kirodi Lal has staged dharnas over incidents such as murders, rapes and communal violence. After the incident in Karauli, he alleged that Hindu families were fleeing the town, a claim denied by police. The Gehlot government has lodged several cases against him.
Kirodi Lal had been one of the first Opposition leaders to allege that last year’s REET question paper had been leaked, putting the Gehlot government on the mat with a series of “revelations”, including claims that ministers in the Gehlot government were involved in the conspiracy. Gehlot accused Kirodi Lal of making false allegations at the behest of BJP leaders in Delhi. However, in the wake of protests, the state government was forced to cancel the REET Level 2 examination.
The spurt in Kirodi Lal’s activities has not gone unnoticed among other BJP leaders, who talk in private about the protests and press conferences he presides over, parallel to events organised by the state BJP. Few, though, are likely to challenge him over this. Apart from Raje, who is hoping to make a comeback in next year’s Assembly elections, another rival, BJP MLA and Deputy Leader of Opposition Rajendra Rathore, spoke out in Kirodi Lal’s favour, following his threat claims. During the visit of NDA presidential candidate Droupadi Murmu to Jaipur, Kirodi Lal had a public spat with Rathore over the arrangements.
Kirodi Lal also claimed that he had received death threats for helping the family of tailor Kanhaiya Lal, who was murdered for social media posts supporting statements against the Prophet.