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Tribal insult summons for ‘Modi of Odisha’

Sarangi is accused of making offensive remarks against tribal people during a confrontation in Nilagiri in 2011

By Subhashish Mohanty in Bhubaneswar

  • Published 14.07.19, 1:00 PM
  • Updated 14.07.19, 1:00 PM
Although Pratap Sarangi was not an accused in the triple murder, his strident views against Christian missionaries working in the state were well known.
Although Pratap Sarangi was not an accused in the triple murder, his strident views against Christian missionaries working in the state were well known. (Wikimedia Commons)

A city court has summoned Union minister Pratap Sarangi, a senior RSS leader hailed as the “Modi of Odisha” for his austere lifestyle, on July 15 in connection with two criminal cases in which he is accused of hurting tribal sentiments.

In one of the cases, the minister of state for micro, small and medium enterprises and of animal husbandry, dairying and fisheries is charged with burning a tribal idol in 2004 at his native village of Gopinathpur in Balasore district.

In the other, Sarangi is accused of making offensive remarks against tribal people during a confrontation in Nilagiri in 2011.

Controversy has long surrounded Sarangi, a bachelor, who headed the state unit of the Bajrang Dal when Australian missionary Graham Staines and his young sons Phillip and Timothy were burnt alive in January 1999.

Although Sarangi was not an accused in the triple murder, his strident views against Christian missionaries working in the state were well known.

The summons to the Balasore MP were issued early this week by the additional district judge’s court, designated by Orissa High court to deal with cases relating to lawmakers.

Police sources said the background to the first case was a tribal custom of worshipping their deity under a tree near a crematorium for Brahmins on the fringes of Sarangi’s home village.

During a cremation in 2004, the Brahmins including Sarangi allegedly opposed the tribal worship near the crematorium. Later, the deity was burnt.

The second case relates to a protest in Nilagiri against the allegedly illegal activities of a temple trust headed by Sarangi, who was the local MLA. This set up a confrontation, during which Sarangi allegedly abused the tribal people present.

“I have not received the summons yet,” Sarangi told The Telegraph. “After I receive it, I will examine it and appear before the court.”

Sarangi alleged the police were framing him, claiming he was not present at the site in either instance. He asked why the BJD government had not prosecuted him so long, and alleged he was being targeted because he was now a Union minister.

Almost all criminal cases against lawmakers had been languishing in Odisha, as elsewhere, till the Supreme Court recently ordered that they be assigned to special courts and speeded up.

Sarangi’s election affidavit this year had cited seven pending criminal cases against him. The charges included criminal intimidation, promoting enmity between groups, arson, destroying public landmarks, mischief with explosives, obscenity and causing hurt.

The Narendra Modi government appears to accord an importance to Sarangi that belies his junior status as a first-time minister of state.

He was last month fielded to initiate the debate on the motion of thanks to the President’s address, an honour usually reserved for a senior leader.

At the debate, Sarangi had asked the hawkish question: “Do people who refuse to accept Vande Mataram and do not care about the country have a right to live in the country?”

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