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Will Sahu's gamble pay off in Orissa?

April 16, 2009 14:59 IST
The inevitable has happened. And perhaps, it seems, Ashok Sahu, the Bharatiya Janata Party candidate from the communally-sensitive Kandhamal parliamentary seat in Orissa, was asking for it.

Perhaps he wanted to get arrested to become a martyr for the Hindu cause just like the BJP candidate for the G Udaigiri assembly constituency in Kandhamal district, Manoj Pradhan, who is under arrest on various counts of rioting and arson following Swami Lakshmananda Saraswati's murder on August 23, 2008.

The Kandhamal district administration arrested Sahu on April 14 for making an inflammatory speech against Christians nine days earlier, on April 5, in Raikia, a small town some 280 km from the state capital, Bhubaneshwar. Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi was supposed to attend the rally where Sahu made his hate speech. But Modi did not turn up, citing a technical snag in the helicopter he was to take to Raikia.

Currently Hindutva's poster boy in Orissa, Sahu is also president of the Hindu Jagaran Samukhya, an affiliate of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.

Sahu, a former Indian Police Service officer who served in Assam during the insurgency in that state, boasts that during his tenure he "terrorised ULFA" (the outlawed United Liberation Front of Asom).

Christians in Orissa's Kandhamal district say they feel terrorised after Vishwa Hindu Parishad activist Saraswati's murder.

"We feel persecuted after the violence that killed more than 25 Christians in the district and fear to move out of our homes lest we are attacked," says Sister Crista at a convent in Baliguda.

Her convent was attacked after the swami's murder and she escaped death when arsonists set fire to a church where she had taken refuge.

Sahu, who joined the BJP in 1997, has assiduously cultivated the image of Hindu messiah, and has consistently denounced Christian missionaries in Orissa.

If you believe Sahu, then the swami was not killed by the "Red Maoists." Saraswati, he alleges, "was murdered at the behest of (Editor's note: MP's name deleted) and (Editor's note: Clergyman's name deleted)," an allegation he made during the Raikia speech.

Proof? "Do you ask for proof when Raphael Cheenath (the archbishop of Orissa) makes an allegation that the RSS and its affiliates are responsible for the deaths of Christians in the last eight months?" he sharply rebukes us. Sahu freely makes libelous statements without fearing the law of the land.

It is this 'I-fear-no-one, I-fear-nothing' attitude that has made Sahu a hero amongst his followers.

"There is nothing wrong in what Sahuji is doing or saying against the Christians of Orissa," says Binayak Patra, an agent for the Life Insurance Corporation and an RSS member, in Raikia.

"You ask any tribal, any Dalit if these missionaries are not involved in their conversions and you will be shocked by their responses. We need people like Sahuji who can stop these conversions that have the potential of changing the religious landscape of Orissa," Patra tell us angrily.

"After Swamiji, Ashok Sahu is the messiah God has sent to protect Hindu interests," he adds.

Ashutosh Sahu, another RSS member from Baliguda, points out, "The man speaks with a lot of zeal and vigour when he espouses the cause of Hindus. We fully support Sahuji in his battle against the plan of Christian missionaries in this poverty-stricken state."

However, Sahu has enemies in his own fold, as he himself confesses, "A few activists of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad are working against me in Bhanjanagar."

Earlier, Sahu made no bones of the fact that he chose Kandhamal to contest the Lok Sabha election because he wanted to make the swami's murder an election issue. He knows that if he wins on the back of this emotive issue then he will emerge as the face of hardline Hindutva in Orissa's political landscape. There is no other BJP leader who can match his current following amongst tribal Hindus.

Prasanna D Zore