A day after an anti-Christian rally led to violence in Chhattisgarh's Narayanpur district, including vandalisation of a church, the state police arrested five people, including Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP's) district president Roop Sai Salam.
Salam, along with other right-wing leaders including former BJP district president of Narayanpur, Narayan Markam, had called for a rally against religious conversion on 2 January, Monday. As violence broke out, a church on the premises of a school was desecrated – and statues of Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ damaged.
The mob had also attacked the police force who tried to quell the violence, leading to Narayanpur Superintendent of Police Sadanand Kumar sustaining head injuries.
According to a press note issued by the police on Monday, Roop Sai Salam, Narayan Markam, and 2,000 others had gathered to 'discuss social issues' that same day.
Who Are Roop Sai Salam and Narayan Markam, Accused of Inciting Violence in Chhattisgarh?
Roop Sai Salam is the current district president of the BJP in Narayanpur, while Narayan Markam is the former district president. However, sources say that their roles is much bigger than that.
Both Salam and Markam are said to have close ties and unfettered support of the BJP – and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) – and were promoted as poster boys in their drive against religious conversion in Narayanpur.
Salam was the district president of BJP in Narayanpur about a decade ago, but gradually his political luster waned – and Markam took over the role.
After Salam was sidelined, he got involved with a group called Janjatiya Gaurav Manch, a right-wing supported organisation, which initiated the anti-Christian movement in Narayanpur.
Later, both Salam and Markam shared membership of this organisation, which is led by another BJP leader Bhojram Nag, who was formerly the MLA of Antagarh constituency in Chhattisgarh's Kanker district.
In November 2019, the BJP after having lost to the Congress in the 2018 Assembly elections, appointed Brijmohan Dewangan as the district president of Narayanpur. However, he was removed from his post in October 2022 – and Salam was reinstated.
Salam, who is an important leader of the BJP's Scheduled Tribes (ST) wing, was also a member of state ST commission during the Raman Singh government.
Sources say that Salam's reinstatement came in the face of the BJP's attempt to make religious conversion a political issue in the Assembly elections slated to be held later this year.
But this time when he was inducted into the main party line, he had his work cut out – to make 'religious conversion' a political issue in the district.
Both Salam and Markam, purportedly close aides of former Narayanpur BJP MLA Kedar Kashyap, were entrusted with this responsibility at the district level.
With the backing and support of the BJP leaders at the top, both the leaders have become the face of the BJP's anti-conversion and pro-Hindutva movement on the ground.
The Politics Around the Ruckus in Narayanpur
A day after the mob allegedly led by the BJP's Salam and Markam ransacked a church, the BJP's state unit formed a committee to investigate the instances of violence in Narayanpur.
A tweet by the BJP's Chhattisgarh unit noted:
"The Bharatiya Janata Party's State President Mr Arun Sao has formed a six-member inquiry committee regarding the incidents that took place in Narayanpur and Narayanpur districts in the past. This committee will quickly visit the concerned places and investigate the facts related to this incident and submit its report to the party."
The Congress' state spokesperson RP Singh, however, labelling the BJP's actions as a "sham", alleged that the BJP and the RSS have been trying to instigate a ruckus among the tribals – and the recent violence is part of a larger plan to create unrest in Bastar and exploit the tribals for their vote bank politics.
"All the ruckus was created by the BJP leaders in the district. The district president Roop Sai Salam and former president Narayan Markam were leading the mob which broke down a church and also attacked the SP. And now the BJP, after realising that their plan is exposed, is trying to save face and protect their people. Our party's government is, however, keen to put an end to such instances."RP Singh