New Delhi: Images of a frail man in his sixties packing a bare minimum and stepping out of a bamboo hut in Odisha to take his oath as a minister in Delhi have found an enamoured audience on social media and in the mainstream media.
Pratap Chandra Sarangi, 64, who won the Balasore parliamentary seat in Odisha on a BJP ticket has been appointed as Minister of State in two of Modi’s ministries: Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises and Animal Husbandry, Dairying and Fisheries.
Several Twitter users, including senior journalists, cheered and praised his austere lifestyle. One viral tweet said he was “known as Odisha’s Modi”. Sarangi even campaigned on a bicycle during the election.
Highly spiritual and dedicated his life for poor people.. pic.twitter.com/5xP3JzZAwR
— Sulagna Dash?? #JaiShriRam (@SulagnaDash6) May 24, 2019
According to his election affidavit, he has Rs 15,000 of cash in hand. His movable assets are worth Rs 1.5 lakh and immovable assets total to Rs 15 lakh – not much, given that average assets of Lok Sabha candidates in 2019 was around Rs 4 crore.
Sarangi’s affidavit also reveals that he faces seven pending criminal cases – for criminal intimidation, rioting, promoting enmity between groups on grounds of religion, race, etc., and extortion, among others. Many of these cases were filed during the BJP-BJD alliance government in Odisha.
In March 2002, when Sarangi was state president of the Bajrang Dal – a hardline Hindu youth group affiliated with the RSS – he was arrested by Odisha police on charges of rioting, arson, assault and damaging government property.
The government property in question was the Odisha legislative assembly building, which had been attached by a mob of 500, armed with tridents and lathis, led by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), Durga Vahini and the Bajrang Dal.
The mob was demanding that disputed land in Ayodhya be handed over for the construction of a Ram temple.
More damningly, in January 1999, Saranagi was chief of the Bajrang Dal in Odisha when Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two sons, aged 11 and 7, were burnt alive by a group of men with links to the Bajrang Dal.
Staines and his sons were sleeping in a station wagon in the village of Manoharpur in Keonjhar when the vehicle was set on fire.
When Sarangi was questioned in the case, he denied any wrong doing. The prosecutor decided to not cross-question him.
The Bajrang Dal, under Sarangi, and the RSS had been forcefully campaigning against Christian missionaries, alleging that tribals were being converted.
In an interview to Rediff in February 1999, Sarangi denied that the Bajrang Dal was involved in the murder of Staines and his sons. He also condemned the killing.
Sarangi then spoke with concern about the rising population of Christians in Odisha, blaming forceful conversions by Christian missionaries for the same.
Upon being asked how he viewed the work done by Christian missionaries in Odisha, Sarangi said, “Barring a few exceptions, Christian missionaries, to generalise, are idiots.”