Pratap Chandra Sarangi, the newly elected BJP MP from Odisha, became an internet sensation overnight when pictures of him leaving his humble thatched house with a simple bag and campaigning on a cycle went viral. He was included in the council of ministers of the Modi government as a minister of state yesterday, he got one of the loudest cheers from the crowd during the Oath-Taking ceremony. He has been made minister of state for Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises ministry and Animal Husbandry, Dairying and Fishery ministry.
Perhaps troubled by Sarangi’s great popularity, liberals are now insinuating that the well-respected leader had something to do with the murder of Australian Missionary Graham Staines in 1999. Staines was burnt to death by a mob led by one Dara Singh along with his two children for his missionary activities.
Most people may have forgotten, but new Union minister Sarangi was Odisha coordinator of the Bajrang Dal when Graham Staines and his two kids were burned alive two decades ago
— Mihir Sharma (@mihirssharma) May 31, 2019
The BBC, too, published a report titled ‘Pratap Sarangi: India social media hero minister’s dubious past’ where it is said, “He was the leader of the Bajrang Dal, a hardline rightwing group, when a Hindu mob brutally killed Australian Christian missionary Graham Staines and his two children in 1999.”
While directly blaming Sarangi or saying that he was involved is carefully avoided to prevent defamation suits, the insinuations are quite clear. Therefore, it’s important to thwart this attempt at character assassination.
The truth of the matter is, Dara Singh, an activist linked to Bajrang Dal and 12 others were convicted in 2003 for the murders. The Wadhwa Commission which was tasked with investigating the murder established Singh’s guilt, however, it had made it clear that there was no evidence at all to suggest that Bajrang Dal as an organization was involved with the crime in any manner whatsoever. Therefore, to drag in Sarangi’s name at all in connection with the murder appears quite malicious.
Moreover, the region in which Staines was working in was a communal hotbed due to the conversions carried out by Christian missionaries. It had created a lot of friction between the communities which frequently led to disputes and occasional violence. Only a year before he was murdered, Staines wrote in his journal that his missionary work was disrupted by certain people on motorcycles and later, the Police told him to pack up and leave as they couldn’t provide him with security due to elections.
Staines himself admitted to carrying out conversions. In one of his reports, he had said, ‘The first jungle camp in Ranchandrapur was a fruitful one and the Spirit of God worked among the people. About 100 attended, some were baptised at the camp. At present, Misayel and some of the church leaders are touring a number of places where people are asking for baptism. Five were baptised at Bigonbadi.’
The Wadhwa Commission report also clearly mentions that there was local anger against Staines who was perceived as someone who was emboldening the Christians in the area and furthering the spread of Christianity.
Thus, quite clearly, it appears to be a case where local communal tensions took a devastating turn as a mob led by Dara Singh burnt Staines to death. Evidence also suggests that Bajrang Dal was not involved in the matter in any manner whatsoever. Therefore, to specifically drag Sarangi into it is nothing less than character assassination.
In an interview with India Today while in prison when the trial was ongoing, Dara Singh said, “No. I didn’t kill them. But I spearheaded the movement against missionaries. I was also actively involved in the movement against illegal trade in cows and cow-slaughter. Since I was possibly the most famous name in the region, the police implicated me in the killings. The day the Staines were killed at Manoharpur, I was at least 12-13 km away from the place. But yes, I did not like Graham Staines. For that matter, I never liked missionaries.”
When he was asked why he did not like missionaries, he answered, “Christian Missionaries have been targeting our religion. They have been converting Hindus by deceit and inducements. Our religion is under siege. As a true Hindu, it was my responsibility to oppose them. Therefore I worked in the region organising people against conversions and cow slaughter.” He also denied ever being a member of RSS, VHP or Bajrang Dal.
Sarangi, too, like most Hindus, is quite concerned about conversions as everyone ought to be. Demonizing him for it only reveals the complete lack of understanding of social issues and implications of the demographic shift by the concerned individuals. And to drag him into the murder of Graham Staines is extremely despicable.
He comes from a humble background and defeated candidates who had a lot more financial resources. While it is true that he has seven criminal cases against him, he has been involved in a lot of protests which have ranged from anti-liquor movements to educations.