It didn’t take long for Arjun Ram Meghwal to be noticed. Having hit the headlines in 2015 when he cycled to Parliament and claimed the gesture was his way of doing his bit for the environment, Meghwal, traditionally clad in a green and saffron turban, was inducted into the Union Cabinet by Prime Minister Narendra Modi as the Minister of State for Finance less than a year later.
That reshuffle saw Meghwal replace Jayant Sinha, a Harvard-educated investment banker who had previously worked for consultancies such as McKinsey. “Typical Modi,” an average BJP supporter would have said in those days.
Also Read: Who is Arjun Ram Meghwal? IAS-turned-three-time MP is new Law minister
Eight years since his induction into the cabinet, Meghwal, a three-time Lok Sabha MP from Bikaner parliamentary constituency in Rajasthan, has only grown in stature. Having quit civil services to contest elections on a BJP ticket, Meghwal was on Thursday handed additional charge of the Union Ministry of Law and Justice. He replaces Kiren Rijiju who was shunted to the Ministry of Earth Sciences.
The elevation of Meghwal, who already handles the portfolios of Parliamentary Affairs and Heavy Industries & Public Enterprises ministries, checks many boxes for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. While one aspect of Meghwal’s appointment as Law minister may have to do with Rijiju’s own run-ins with the judiciary on a host of issues, Meghwal’s isolation needs to be viewed also from the perspective of the impending Assembly Elections in Rajasthan.
The Karnataka Effect
A prominent Dalit face for the BJP in the state, Meghwal’s elevation is bound to send a message to the electorate in Rajasthan, where 34 of the 200 seats are reserved for the Scheduled Castes while 25 seats are reserved for the Scheduled Tribes.
Also readModi cabinet reshuffle: Kiren Rijiju replaced as Law minister, Arjun Ram Meghwal gets independent charge
Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes cumulatively account for 31 per cent of the population and form a formidable vote base. This influential bloc has traditionally remained loyal to the BJP, data from the past three assembly elections shows. It is widely believed that the party which maintains its dominance among this 31 per cent vote base is likely to win the state as well.
The outcome in Karnataka is believed to have left the BJP rattled. And it is in this light that Meghwal’s elevation gains greater significance. Post-poll assessments by the BJP show that the shift of the Lingayat, Dalit and backward classes’ votes to the Congress are primarily responsible for the party’s dismal performance in the state.
With less than a year to go for the Lok Sabha elections, and an increasing realisation that the Narendra Modi factor may not always be sufficient to win elections in states, the BJP is leaving nothing to chance. Meghwal’s elevation is a step in this very direction.
Message to Raj?
Meghwal’s elevation may also be seen from the prism of the BJP’s own leadership crisis in the state. While the open dissent by Sachin Pilot against Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot in Congress would make BJP an obvious choice for the electorate which has rarely chosen successful governments to power, the saffron party is ridden with its own issues of factionalism and a leadership crisis.
Though not widely reported, it is an open secret that former Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje and the central leadership of the BJP do not really see eye to eye. Attempts to prop up a parallel leadership have failed in the past and it may be far-fetched to suggest that Meghwal’s elevation is another attempt at fueling another factional war when the BJP is already on the back foot.
et, Meghwal, a low-key leader with a rags-to-riches story to back him, maybe the surprise element in Modi-Shah’s basket. Born into a family of Dalit weavers, Meghwal completed his schooling at Jawahar Jain Secondary School at Bheenasar in Bikaner while helping his father with weaving. After completing his MBA and a law degree from Sri Dungar College, Bikaner, Meghwal began working as a telephone operator.
It was during this stint at the Indian Post and Telegraph Department that he cracked the Rajasthan State Administrative Services exam on his third attempt. He was later promoted to the IAS and appointed as the District Collector of Churu in Rajasthan. He joined the BJP later and contested his first election in 2009 and won. There has been no looking back for him since.
An efficient parliamentarian, his attendance and focus on raising issues specific to his region caught the eye of the Prime Minister who rewarded him with a cabinet berth soon after. He has served on several parliamentary committees, besides tabling numerous private members’ bills during his 14-year tenure as a Lok Sabha MP.
By all means, Meghwal is a non-controversial figure who rarely shoots his mouth off. He has both age and caste on his side and can prove an effective counter against Ashok Gehlot who often positions himself as a “gardener’s son” taking on the might of the Maharani (Raje).
If not the face of the BJP’s campaign, the possibility of the BJP propping him up as a consensus candidate in the event of a conflict cannot be entirely ruled out.