In Indian politics, he is a rarity, among the political class, an aberration. Whether in power or not, the newly elected Member of Parliament from Odisha’s Balasore seat, Pratap Chandra Sarangi, 64, at least for now, remains the same person, accessible to all, always.
Despite, his humble background and frugal lifestyle, Sarangi is loved by the masses for his selfless service, respected around the state for his honesty. Feared by his political opponents for his upright stance, knowledge on various issues and debating skills, he does not shy away from calling a spade a spade.
Known as a firebrand speaker and a tremendous orator both in Odia and Sanskrit, the thinly built RSS follower, popular for riding around the villages in a bicycle, has a sharp intellect.
In the 2019 elections, odds were heavy against Sarangi. He was sandwiched between two of the richest candidates, both millionaires, in the fray.
On one side, was Congress nominee, Nabajyoti Patnaik, who enjoyed a family legacy in politics. His father Niranjan Patnaik is the state Congress president. Nabajyoti’s paternal uncle and Niranjan’s younger brother, Soumya Ranjan Patnaik is BJD’s Rajya Sabha MP and owns the biggest media house in the state, the Eastern Media limited (EML). The EML runs apart from other ventures, the largest circulated vernacular daily, Sambad and the 24x7 news channel, Kanak TV. The Patnaiks have interests in many other businesses including mining. Soumya is the son-in-law of former Odisha chief minister, JB Patnaik.
On the other side was the sitting BJD MP, the industrialist-cum-politician Rabindra Kumar Jena. He is also the proprietor of news channel News World Odisha. He had earlier served as CEO, then as managing director of Balasore Alloys. Jena had BJD’s deeply entrenched organisational setup and Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik backing him during his electoral battle.
However, banking on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s wave and his own goodwill, Sarangi won the race, leaving Jena, largely believed to be invincible, behind by 12,956 votes. Incidentally, Modi had campaigned for Sarangi in Balasore.
Prior to his entry into the Lok Sabha, Sarangi has been a two-time MLA from Nilagiri seat (in Balasore) as an Independent candidate. In 2014, he had contested on a BJP ticket for Balasore Lok Sabha seat but lost to Jena by 1.42 lakh votes.
While his opponents campaigned with luxury cars in tow, many saw Sarangi seeking votes in hired auto rickshaws.
“We never imagined losing Balasore seat. We still can’t believe it. Sarangi’s win is a huge surprise for us,” concedes a BJD leader.
A senior manager with a leading corporate house, who claims to know Sarangi for over two decades, shares his experiences. A few days post severe cyclonic storm Fani ravaged Puri, this executive, who has an RSS leaning from school days, headed to render his services at an ashram in Puri.
“I was thinking of the condition of the large goshala (cowshed), there,” he says. However, when he reached the spot, he found Sarangi, tirelessly cleaning the broken branches of the trees strewn around. “Nana (as Brahmins are addressed) is really fond of cows. He was entirely focused on the cleaning of the goshala. He is a perfectionist, hates half measures,” says the executive.
He also recalls many such instances. “Around two decades ago, Nana had come for a meeting to our area. After the meeting, I got him to my room. I was a student, stayed alone. I didn’t know much about cooking. Both were hungry. I just made rice and fried a few potatoes. We poured water in the rice, made it Pakhala (mostly eaten in Odisha) and ate it with Aloo bhaja (potato fry). Nana really enjoyed the food,” he claims.
Many in Bhubaneswar remember to have seen Sarangi, eating vada and aalu chop (fried mashed potato dipped in chickpea flour) from roadside vendors.
“Many a time, this thin, bearded person comes and eats aalu chop and vada from a shop near the Keshari talkies locality,” recounts Shiladitya Shastri, an entrepreneur in Bhubaneswar.
What cuts him from the rest of his colleagues is his simplicity.
Senior Congress leader and former finance minister in Naveen Patnaik’s cabinet Panchanan Kanungo term Sarangi as a ‘100 percent BJP man'. “He is a cent percent Hinduist, BJP politician,” Kanungo says.
Sarangi’s followers, however, dismiss the charge. According to them, a true leader is above party affiliations and religious leanings.
“Guruji is selfless, absolutely committed towards the cause of the people, something most of the politicians lack. Therefore they criticise him,” says Manoranjan Bag, a young man from Balasore.
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Updated Date: May 29, 2019 16:22:32 IST