As a protest by Indian wrestlers continues against BJP MP and Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) president Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, the BJP is facing tremors in Haryana where even its ally Jannayak Janta Party (JJP) has demanded that the government act to protect the wrestlers. The khap panchayats of the state have already come out in support of the wrestlers.
Singh, the Kaiserganj MP and strongman from Gonda in Uttar Pradesh, has dug in his heels in the face of the public backlash over the wrestlers’ allegations and has refused to resign. He has accused Congress MP Deepender Hooda — the son of Leader of Opposition and former Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda — of “instigating the protesters”, compared the demonstration to the “dharna of Shaheen Bagh”, and reiterated that he won’t quit from the post. Most of the wrestlers protesting against the BJP MP at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi are from Haryana, including Olympic medallists Bajrang Punia, Ravi Dahiya and Sakshi Malik, and world championship medallist Vinesh Phogat who has accused Singh of sexual harassment.
Pushing the BJP to a corner, not only the Congress but ally JJP has also issued calls for action to be taken against the BJP MP and urged the youth to come out in support of the wrestlers “till justice is served”.
Deputy Chief Minister Dushyant Chautala’s brother Digvijay Chautala, who is the JJP general secretary, said on Thursday, “Most of the players sitting on protest at Jantar Mantar in Delhi against Wrestling Federation are from Haryana. The JJP stands with the players. The sports ministry is looking into it. Till the Union government or the sports ministry takes any final decision, it is irrelevant for me to say anything. But, I believe that Haryana represents the country in wrestling. Today, if eight players represent the country in wrestling, seven are from Haryana. And when an issue has been raised by them, the Union government should definitely get it examined seriously.”
Chautala went on to add, “A player prepares from childhood to play for the country and the player only expects respect. Today, due to some people, efforts are being made to lower players’ honour and we will not tolerate this. The JJP is always standing with the players and will support them on every front.”
Saying that he had spoken to the Phogat sisters and was trying to talk to other sportspersons, Chautala told reporters, “Being a sportsperson, I appeal to the youth of the country and the state to strongly support the sportspersons till justice is served.”
Asked about the sexual harassment allegations against BJP leader and former state sports minister Sandeep Singh, the JJP leader said, “There should be a complete investigation in this matter also and justice should be done.”
The Congress has also hit out at the BJP. Leader of Opposition Bhupinder Singh Hooda said, “Majority of the sportspersons who have made it big for the country come from the rural areas of Haryana. It is shameful for any state or any country to force their sportspersons to protest on roads. The government is not hearing their voice. Earlier it was the farmers, now it is the sportspersons. The youth is as such facing immense unemployment, prices of essential commodities are at an all-time high, corruption is at its peak, small and medium businesses are getting shut, and the BJP-JJP government in Haryana are just turning a blind eye towards all of this.”
Looking to do some damage control, Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar on Thursday said the Union government had taken note of the wrestlers’ allegations and sought a response from the wrestling federation within 72 hours. The government would take appropriate action following the federation’s response, he added. “The Central and state governments through their welfare schemes are doing several works to boost the morale of the sportspersons,” added the CM. “In relation to the latest case, if any matter is referred to the state government by the Centre, then cognisance and further action will be taken on it. No such complaint had come earlier and the information regarding the issue was received only after the players’ demonstration yesterday.”
But Hooda found the response inadequate. “As the leader of the state, he should be the first one to raise their voice. Had it been our government, I would have been the first one to have raised their (sportspersons’) voice and ensured they received justice,” said the Leader of the Opposition.
Other BJP leaders in the state are also waiting and watching to see what action the Union government takes and are steering clear of the controversy.
Khattar government under pressure
The wrestlers’ protest comes at a bad time for the Khattar government as it is in the line of fire of sarpanches who are protesting against the government’s decision to make e-tenders mandatory for development works under Panchayati Raj Institutions.
Protests are going on against e-tendering at several places across Haryana. But the CM and Panchayati Raj Minister Devender Singh Babli have refused to modify the policy.
The JJP has called for dialogue on this. Chautala said, “Our party stands with public sentiment. The newly elected sarpanches want to do rural development with new energy and the government wants transparency through e-tendering. In such a situation, the government should sit and discuss with the sarpanches and such issues are resolved only through dialogue. Instead of protesting, the points on which there are doubts in the e-tendering process should be cleared through dialogue.
This is not the first time that the JJP has differed from the BJP. During the yearlong farmers’ agitation against three Central farm laws, Dushyant Chautala faced pressure from within his party to withdraw support to the BJP. But that did not come to pass as the Deputy CM insisted they could help farmers if they remained part of the government and went to Delhi to meet the top BJP leadership to discuss his party’s concerns.