Monday, October 2, 2023

Political Slugfest

As the wrestlers fight for justice, the political snowballing is hard to ignore. The BJP may have to pay a heavy price for this

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By Sanjay Raman Sinha

Wrestlers are no strangers to spectacles. But the one that unfolded on the banks of the Ganges in Haridwar was a different ball game altogether. Teary eyed, they threatened to throw their hard earned medals in the river. Some thought it was a well scripted drama; others identified with their plight and trauma.

The medals were, however, saved as Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) leader Naresh Tikait intervened and gave the government time to take action against the Wrestling Federation of India chief and BJP MP Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh who has been accused of sexual misconduct.

Two FIRs and seven complaints have been filed against Singh. The complainants have charged him with touching inappropriately on the back, stomach and chest and stalking, among other things. He has denied all allegations. “If a single allegation against me is proven, I will hang myself. If wrestlers have any evidence, present it to the court, and I am ready to accept any punishment,” he reportedly said.

Meanwhile, it is hard to ignore the political groupings that have emerged. The khap panchayat has supported the movement of the wrestlers. BJP MP from Muzaffarnagar, UP, and Union Minister Sanjeev Balyan; BJP MP from Hisar Birendra Singh; and MP Pritam Munde from Haryana have also taken a stand against Singh.

Tikait has said that the khaps have decided to take the protest to Delhi’s Jantar Mantar next week. A “khap mahapanchayat” in Kurukshetra, Haryana, has demanded the arrest of Singh and given the government time till June 9 to act on its demand.

If the anger grows against Singh, the BJP stands to pay a heavy price in poll-bound Rajasthan. Political sentiment is high in Haryana as well. Political groupings over Singh are apparent in western Uttar Pradesh too.

Jats in western Uttar Pradesh are close to about 17%. They influence more than a dozen Lok Sabha and 60 assembly seats in western UP. If the Congress cashes in on the popular unrest, it can prove unsettling for the BJP in the coming polls in Rajasthan.

The muted way in which the BJP is handling this case is a reminder of the Ajay Mishra Teni episode. There too the government’s reluctance to be proactive against his son Ashish Mishra (who was accused of killing four farmers and a journalist in Lakhimpur Kheri in October 2021), had given reason for farmers and Tikait to rally against the government.

It will also soil India’s image in the international sporting arena as the International Olympic Committee has termed the treatment of wrestlers by the police “very disturbing” and has demanded speedy investigation against Singh. The United World Wrestling too condemned the earlier arrest and temporary detention of the wrestlers, adding that it was disappointed “over the lack of results of the investigations so far”.

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