Many did not know who Pratap Chandra Sarangi was before the 2019 Lok Sabha elections when his popularity increased for his auto-rickshaw rallies while his rivals in the Balasore Lok Sabha constituency were said to be the richest candidates in Odisha.
Pratap received the loudest applause when he took his oath as a Minister of State on Thursday. The 64-year-old was wearing a simple white kurta and pyjama with his trademark scruffy greying beard.
The simplicity of Pratap's outfit extends to his lifestyle too. He lives in a thatched house and uses a bicycle for commute. He currently lives alone after the death of his mother last year.
When asked if he would change his lifestyle now that he is a minister, Pratap told The Times of India, "My lifestyle has been like this since childhood. It is not going to change with power. I believe in meeting the basic needs of life and working for the people and the country."
"Sarangi is known for preferring to cycle through his constituency, moving from village to village to meet voters. In the state capital, Bhubaneswar, he would often be seen walking or cycling to attend sessions at the state assembly, having a bite to eat at a modest roadside restaurant or waiting for a train at the railway platform," Sandeep Sahu, an Orissa-based journalist, told BBC.
Sarangi is a beloved figure in Odisha and is fondly referred to as 'nana'. He has the support of BJP general secretary Ram Madhav who tweeted, "Salute to the indomitable spirit of the RSS man."
He was previously the state leader of the Bajrang Dal and had gone on to build Ekal Vidyalayas (one teacher schools) which admitted students from class 3 to 5.
Sarangi was heading Bajrang Dal during the brutal murder of Graham Staines, an Australian Christian missionary, and his two children in 1999. The blame fell on the Bajrang Dal but reports state that since there was no evidence, no arrests were made. In 2003, a lengthy trial convicted Dara Singh and 12 others in the case.
In relation to the case, Sarangi had condoled the deaths of the two children but still stood his ground regarding Staines' murder, maintaining that Christian missionaries are evil and are "bent on converting the whole of India".