Dubai: One of the newest members of parliament who was sworn-in to the cabinet of ministers in India has become the subject of intense debate online.
Pratap Chandra Sarangi, the winning candidate from Balasore, Odisha, became a social media sensation last week when pictures went viral showing him preparing to leave from his home for the swearing-in ceremony in New Delhi.
Sarangi, who is one of the poorest ministers in the cabinet, according to reports in the Indian media, lives in a mud hut and owns a bicycle as his only mode of transport. The pictures showed him packing a bag with the few possessions he has.
Many social media users, however, highlighted his connection with the mob lynching of a Christian missionary in 1999.
What is the Graham Staines incident?
Australian Graham Staines and his two children, aged 10 and 6, were burnt alive in their car by a gang. Investigations led to the conviction of Dara Singh, a member of the Bajrang Dal - a right-wing outfit - and a close aide of Sarangi.
When the murder took place, Sarangi was the state coordinator of the Bajrang Dal.
According to a media report, an Odisha-based journalist had said that Sarangi gave several interviews, including to him, speaking passionately against “evil designs” of Christian missionaries who were “bent on converting the whole of India”.
He was also arrested on charges of rioting, arson, assault and damaging government property after a 2002 attack on the Odisha state Assembly by Hindu rightwing groups, including the Bajrang Dal.
Tweep @sayantan_gh shared the details of these charges, and tweeted: “Let me share the election affidavit of Mr Pratap Sarangi who is now a minister and headed the Bajrang Dal in the state when Graham Staines and his two young sons were burnt alive. He has 7 pending criminal cases. Let’s look at @BJP4India’s Aam Aadmi [common man].”
Sarangi was hailed in the media as Bharatiya Janata Party’s ‘common man’ as well as the .Modi of Odhisa’.
Another Twitter user, @t_d_h_nair, wrote: “Pratap Sarangi, the new poster boy of simplicity and austerity in the national media, leads a simple life to champion the very complex ideas of social violence and bigotry.”
Several supporters, however, called the criticism nothing more than slander.
Tweep @lootera24 wrote: “He is not Odisha’s #Modi, He is one and only India’s and Odisha’s pride #Pratap_Sarangi.”
Another Twitter user, @pratyasharath, reacted to the tweets on Sarangi’s chequered past and wrote: “Slander fest around Pratap Sarangi has begun. Keep trying. His constituents know him since decades now. All this won’t cut it.”
Twitter user @nazmaaman, however, concluded that there was no reason to worry about Sarangi’s induction into the cabinet, as crime and politics appeared to be quite closely connected.
She tweeted: “Those who are shocked and dismayed at the induction of Pratap Sarangi in the cabinet, I’m really amused that these things still shock you. After Yogi [Adityanath], Sakshi [Maharaj] and Pragya [Singh Thakur], how is this new? Please save your energy pointing out his criminal history to people, because, news flash: ‘They don’t care’.”