Today, a monk-politician took an oath as a union minister of India under the Prime Ministership of Narendra Modi. He is Pratap Chandra Sarangi. His life, activities and lifestyle evoke respect from everyone, including his opponents. I dedicate this post to him.
In Indian politics, he is a rarity, among the political class, an aberration. Whether in power or not, the newly elected Member of Parliament (MP) from Odisha’s Balasore seat, Pratap Chandra Sarangi remains the same person, accessible to all, always.
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 Oriya and Sanskrit, the thinly built RSS follower, popular for riding around the villages in a bicycle, has a sharp intellect. Prior to his entry into the Lok Sabha, Sarangi has been a two-time Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA) from Nilagiri seat (in Balasore) as an Independent candidate. Sarangi was adjudged the ‘Best Politician’ at OTV’s Odisha Citizen Awards-2017.
In the 2019 elections, odds were heavy against Sarangi. He was sandwiched between two of the richest candidates, both millionaires, in the fray. Sarangi won the race, leaving the sitting BJD MP, the industrialist-cum-politician Rabindra Kumar Jena, largely believed to be invincible, behind by 12,956 votes.
While his opponents campaigned with luxury cars in tow, many saw Sarangi seeking votes in hired auto rickshaws. On social media, there are already several photographs of the lawmaker using a cycle to commute in his village. Not surprisingly, he was among the least resourceful of Lok Sabha candidates with a declared asset of just ₹13.46 lakh ($19,000).
Sarangi lives in Nilagiri block of Balasore district and has been known in the state for his austere living. After graduating from Fakir Mohan College in Balasore, he wanted to become a monk in Ramkrishna Math. Since his childhood, Sarangi was a spiritual seeker. The monks of the Math discussed with Sarangi about his desire and examined his biodata. They came to know that his widowed mother was alive. They insisted that he should go back and serve her and the society. Incidentally, Prime Minister Narendra Modi also wanted to become a monk and went to Ramkrishna Math in Gujarat. The head monk of the math advised him to return to society and serve the society.
After his return to his village, he became involved in various social activities. He has been a crusader against alcohol, corruption, social injustice and police atrocity. He is also credited with opening many schools for the poor called Samar Kara Kendra, under the Gana Shikhsa Mandir Yojana in tribal areas in Balasore and Mayurbhanj districts of Odisha. According to reports, few days after Cyclone Fani ravaged parts of Odisha, he rendered his selfless service and tirelessly cleaned the broken tree branches strewn around in the coastal town of Puri.
The monk who never owned a Ferrari and defeated one who campaigned in Ferrari. The poorest MP of India, who spent the least amount of money in his election campaign and went around campaigning on his cycle deserves the highest respect. Though he has now become minister, don’t be surprised if you catch him on a cycle, riding the streets of Delhi!