Pratap Sarangi, the lawmaker from Odisha's Balasore who was sworn in to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's new council of ministers on Thursday, has found instant stardom on social media for his austere lifestyle. Photos of him packing a bag, emerging out of a thatched house and riding a bicycle have framed his journey to the country's capital and earned him the moniker of "Odisha's Modi" - a reference to the Prime Minister's humble origins. However, the BJP leader's remarkable rise has also turned the spotlight on his past and the seven criminal cases against him.
Arrested after an attack on the Odisha assembly by right-wing groups, including the Bajrang Dal in 2002, Mr Sarangi, 64, faces charges of rioting, arson assault and damaging government property. He had also been a leader of the Bajrang Dal when a mob brutally killed Australian Christian missionary Graham Staines and his two children in 1999.
Speaking to NDTV after his new assignment was announced, Mr Sarangi said, "All these (cases) are based on false allegations. The police have done this deliberately because I went against their corruption and taking bribes. I fought against it seriously. I fought against injustice for social causes and that is why I was the enemy of many corrupt officials and that is why all antisocial elements united to file cases against me. Many charges were proved false in court and rest will be dismissed too."
He also firmly denied any link to the Graham Staines case.
Mr Sarangi, a long-time member of the BJP's ideological mentor Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), has been appointed Minister of State in the Ministry of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises and the Ministry of Animal Husbandry, Dairying and Fisheries.
Pratap Sarangi won from Balasore Lok Sabha constituency defeating Biju Janata Dal (BJD) candidate and industrialist Rabindra Jena by a margin of nearly 13,000 votes in the Lok Sabha elections. A two-time Independent legislator from Nilagiri Assembly constituency in Balasore district, Mr Sarangi had contested unsuccessfully as the BJP candidate in 2014 Lok Sabha polls.
Known for living like an ascetic, Mr Sarangi's supporters say he has done extensive social work to help the poor and spearheaded a movement for the protection of cows. The first-time parliamentarian is said to be spending the major portion of his MLA pension to support education of poor children in his area.
"My busy schedule might not permit me to work in all those fields but I will try to find surplus time and energy to look after those things," he told NDTV.