Social Media Star Pratap Sarangi’s Little-Known Past

Bhubaneswar: Social media is always quick to jump to conclusions. Most of the times, the narrative being incessantly pushed on social media has a flip side that is overlooked. Case in point, Pratap Sarangi.

The Balasore BJP MP, who was sworn-in as Union Minister of State on Thursday, received the second loudest applause after Modi while he was taking the oath. This was a direct result of the social media fame and national media coverage of Sarangi’s simple and austere lifestyle.

Ever since photos of frail-looking Sarangi leaving his bamboo hut, traveling in a bicycle, taking bath near a hand-pump have been doing rounds on Twitter, people have been hailing his rise to power. His pictures and simple way of living have struck a chord with the people, who have made a hero out of him.

Twitterati have also shared that he has opened 100s of schools in tribal areas and is an activist against liquor and corruption. Sarangi has also been named as ‘Odisha’s Modi’- referencing the Prime Minister’s humble beginnings. But, there is more to this than meets the eye as media reports have dug out the 64-year-old’s dubious past with several criminal cases to his name.

In 1999, Australian Christian missionary Graham Staines and his two minor sons Philip and Timothy were torched to death when they were sleeping in their station wagon in a Keonjhar village. “While Graham and his wife Gladys ran a hospital for leprosy patients in Mayurbhanj and looked after tribal people living in abject poverty, many rightwing Hindus suspected them to be poisoning the tribals and proselytizing them,” informed a political journalist.

Dara Singh, who had led a group of fundamentalists to commit the crime, was sentenced to life imprisonment in 2003. The Wadhwa Commission that held Dara Singh to be guilty of the murder had dismissed ‘involvement of any organisation, even that of Bajrang Dal in planning and executing the crime’, stated reports.

Though he denied being a member of Bajrang Dal, links were found between Singh and the hardline pro-Hindutva group by National Minorities Commission, said a senior scribe. Incidentally, Pratap Sarangi was the State Chief of Bajrang Dal during that time. The Bajrang Dal, under Sarangi, and the RSS had also been forcefully campaigning against Christian missionaries, alleging that tribals were being converted.

Sarangi too claimed that Dara Singh was never a primary member of the group but he did vilify Staines and publicly supported the act of killing by Dara Singh, informed a veteran Odisha journalist.

This is just the first case.

In December 2001, Sarangi was arrested on charges of rioting, arson, assault and vandalizing Government property after an attack on the Orissa State Assembly. As per reports, he had led a group of saffron activists, including the Bajrang Dal, in attacking the Assembly premises and the MLAs. Armed with tridents and lathis, the mob of 500 people from Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Bajrang Dal and the Durga Vahini overpowered security and stormed into the assembly building.

While no one was injured, there was extensive damage to property. They broke glass doors and window panes, smashed flowerpots placed along the corridors, ransacked the library and the chambers of Ministers. It has been touted as one of the worst attacks on ‘temple of democracy’, commented a political analyst.

In his affidavit, Sarangi reveals that he faces seven pending cases – for criminal intimidation, rioting, arson, promoting enmity between groups on grounds of religion, race, etc., among others. Senior scribes in Odisha also confirm that Sarangi strongly supports the hooliganism in the name of cow vigilantism and also backs the narrative of ‘Nathuram Godse was a patriot’.

Over the past few days, the newly sworn-in Minister of State of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises and of Animal husbandry, Dairying and Fisheries, has been denying all these allegations against him in national media. He said to a leading news channel, “All these (cases) are based on false allegations. The police have done this deliberately because I went against their corruption and taking bribes. I was the enemy of many corrupt officials and that is why all antisocial elements united to file cases against me. Many charges were proved false in court and rest will be dismissed too.”

Fortunately for him, this recent wave of praise and limelight garnered for his simplicity seems to have shadowed his murky past. And, his critics have remarked, “Behind the austerity, is a man who backs violence and aren’t wolves in sheep’s clothing always dangerous?”

Despite several attempts by OMMCOM NEWS, Pratap Sarangi remained unavailable for a comment.