The battle for the reserved seats of Rajasthan, in which the Meena community plays a crucial role -- is being closely watched in the coming assembly elections. The Meenas are influential tribal voters of east Rajasthan, who dominate not only politics, but also the reservation pie in government jobs.
After the recent defection of BJP poster boy Harish Meena to the Congress, there have been questions on whether the party can retain its influence over the community, especially in eastern Rajasthan. Of the 36 seats reserved for the Scheduled Castes in the state, the BJP has 32; of the 25 seats reserved for the Scheduled Tribes the BJP has 19.
A former chief of the state police chief, Harish Meena commands respect in the Meena community, who look up to strongmen tactics. He is now contesting the election from Deoli Uniara in east Rajasthan's Tonk district.
Questions are now being raised on whether Harish Meena can face what is being called the 'Kirori factor'.
Dr Kirori Lal Meena is a firebrand leader of the Meena community, who left the BJP during the 2003 election, in which the party suffered a huge setback in east Rajasthan. But he is now back as a member of the party's Rajya Sabha team.
As the two strongmen go toe-to-toe in Deoli-Uniara constituency, fight is on for leverage in the Meena community. "I have been a police officer for 38 years," Harish Meena said. "In police, I served the people and in politics it is also about service," he added.
Kirori Lal Meena, whose wife Golma Devi is contesting the assembly election from Sapotra, a reserved constituency, insisted that the equations are not changing, "the BJP will come back to power."
The BJP and the Congress are not only banking on firebrand leaders. For the first time, they have also given tickets to two fresh faces from the reserved constituencies.
Indra Meena, the wife of a school teacher, is the Congress candidate from Bamanwas and Asha Meena, wife of a Rajasthan cadre administrative service officer, is the BJP candidate from Sawai Madhopur.
"I am the wife of a school teacher," Indra Meena said. "People relate to me. They feel somebody who is part of their social milieu, is contesting the election, otherwise politics so far was dominated by Meena strongmen."
Asha Meena has hit the campaign trail with Diya Kumari, a member of the former royal family of Jaipur.
In the 2013 election, Diya Kumari had wrested Sawai Madhopur from Kirori Lal Meena on a BJP ticket, in what was considered a David versus Goliath fight in the Meena bastion.
This time Diya Kumari is not contesting, but her influence is expected to tilt the scales of the community in favour of Asha Meena.
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