Chhattisgarh Governor Biswabhusan Harichandan receives the letter of support from CM-designate Vishnu Deo Sai to form the government in the state, in Raipur on December 10, 2023. (X/@BJP4CGState)
Chhattisgarh’s outgoing chief minister Bhupesh Bhagel introduced the policy of buying ‘gobar’ and promoted its use in several products, including bio gas, as the ‘Gobar Economy’. However, Vishnu Deo Sai spearheaded a movement against this policy and called it a ‘filter’ to siphon off public money. He also actively organised ‘ghar wapsi’ ceremonies where Christian tribals converted to Hindu religion
Raised by the RSS and known by his ceremonies of ‘reverse conversion’ or conversion of tribal Christians to Hindu religion, Vishnu Deo Sai’s elevation from working as ‘removed state chief of the BJP’ pre-poll to the chief minister of Chhattisgarh post poll is probably the most fascinating facet of the 60-year old tribal leader. He fought the election with a whole lot of ‘exes’ after his name – ex-Panch, ex-MLA, ex-MP, ex-Union Minister, and ex-state chief. It all paid for he gets to now add the coveted title before his name – Chief Minister.
The locals, his party colleagues and senior bureaucrats call his journey ‘Gobar se aage Ghar Wapsi’. Chhattisgarh’s outgoing chief minister Bhupesh Bhagel introduced the policy of buying ‘gobar‘ (cow dung) and the government promoted the policy of using cow dung in several products, including bio gas, as the ‘Gobar Economy’. However, Sai spearheaded a movement against this policy and called it a ‘filter’ to siphon off public money.
In an earlier interaction, Sai told this reporter about the alleged corrupt practices Bagel government had indulged in through the ‘Gobar economy’ and ‘Gauthan project’ (cow-sheds).
Sai has been a member of the Sangh and has been closely associated with RSS affiliate Vanavasi Kalyan Ashram and Gayatri Parivar. He prioritised ‘ghar wapsi‘ or ‘reverse conversion’ of tribals, who had converted to Christianity across the tribal belts of Surguja and Bastar over the last few decades, to Hinduism. He backed the RSS ‘Dharma Jagaran Mancha’ that organised such conversion ceremonies on a regular basis in the region. Sai is the tribal who led the ‘de-listing’ movement, demanding government’s action to ‘de-list’ all converted tribals.
Surguja and Bastar regions account for 26 tribal dominates seats. The BJP swept all 14 seats in Surguja, and won eight of the 12 seats in Bastar. In 2018, the Congress had swept both Surguja and Bastar regions by winning all 26 tribal-dominated seats. Sai ensured that the BJP wrested control over all 14 seats in Surguja.
Sai’s Battle Against ‘Religious Conversion’
The Chief Minister-designate fought from Kunkuri Assembly constituency in Surguja district against sitting Congress MLA UD Minj. Minj, a tribal Christian and influential tribal leader of the region, is known to be the one who supported the conversion of tribals from Hinduism to Christianity. Kunkuri is the place that has Asia’s second largest church. Kunkuri Cathedral, according to the local people, has been at the centre of the religious conversion.
The state has multiple dioceses, the major ones being Jashpur, Ambikapur and Raigarh districts with high tribal population. The headquarters of Jashpur diocese is Kunkuri Cathedral. The Jashpur diocese has around 52 other churches, with 150 senior priest holding several positions and working in the tribal society in several forms.
Sai waged a battle, heavily backed by the RSS and its affiliates like Banavasi Kalyan Ashram (RSS wing that works among tribals), Gayatri Parivar and Dharma Jagaran Mancha (organisations that work for ‘ghar wapsi’) , against the Christian missionaries in the region.
Prabal Pratap Singh Judev told News18 about Vishnu Deo Sai’s connection with his father Dilip Singh Judev, the most popular ‘king’ among the tribals and a member of erstwhile royal family of Jashpur estate in the region. He said his father — a former union minister, two-term Lok Sabha MP and three-term Rajya Sabha MP — was known as the most vocal critic of the missionaries.
“My father is the one who mentored Sai ji and influenced him to be the one to lead the ‘ghar wapsi’ of tribals in the region. He once kept his hand on Sai’s head and said that he would become the chief minister of the state. His dream has been fulfilled today,” said Prabal Pratap, Akhil Bharatiya Ghar Wapsi Pramukh. Prabal Pratap fought from Kota in Chhattisgarh as BJP’s candidate, but lost to the Congress.
News18 has learnt from sources in the RSS and BJP ranks that senior functionaries of the Sangh vetoed against ex-chief minister Raman Singh’s comeback as the CM, and pushed for Sai instead.
A senior BJP leader told News18 that the top brass sought Raman Singh’s suggestion and he proposed two names — Sai and Lata Usendi, a woman tribal leader who won from Kondagaon defeating Mohan Markam. The party chose Sai amid the RSS push.
A senior RSS functionary explained: “Surguja region is one of those crucial tribal regions for the Sangh as it witnessed unabated conversion of tribals to Christianity. We have to stop such religion conversion to save Hindu dharma. The tribals were lured by the Church, but Sai got them back in the Hindu fold. He politically facilitated the Sangh’s work. He is one of us and a very rooted and religious person.”