Is this the end of road for ex-WFI chief Brij Bhushan Singh?

Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh

In the eye of a storm after India’s top wrestlers accused him of sexually harassing female athletes, Brij Bhushan and his son are not part of the electoral college for the upcoming WFI elections

Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, MP who until recently had been the chief of the Wrestling Federation of India for the past 12 years but had been in the eye of a storm after India’s top wrestlers, including Olympic medallists and world champions, accused him of sexually harassing female athletes and his son Karan are not part of the electoral college for the upcoming Wrestling Federation of India (WFI).  Is this the end of the road for the former WFI boss?

It is worth mentioning that Sports minister Anurag Thakur had promised to the protesting wrestlers led by Vinesh Phogat and Bajrang Punia that none from Brij Bhushan’s family will contest the elections. Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh is an influential MP from the ruling party and recently, he has been at the centre of a sporting row. The allegations against him are serious and top wrestlers, including Olympic medallists and world champions, had accused him of sexually harassing female athletes and have held months of protests demanding his arrest. The wrestlers’ protests had made global headlines and after a number of medal-winners were dragged through the streets last month when they tried to march on parliament, even the International Olympic Committee weighed in, calling on India to ensure the safety of athletes and carry out a fair investigation.

As per the revised schedule, on the last day for receiving nominations, the Uttar Pradesh unit filed fresh nominations withdrawing the names of Brij Bhushan and son Karan Bhushan, who had also served as WFI vice-president since 2019.

In the electoral list, 25 states have nominated two representatives each for the electoral college. Elections will be held for the post of president, senior vice-president, four vice-presidents, a secretary general, a treasurer, two joint secretaries and five executive members.  The submission of nominations for elections is from July 28-31. The scrutiny of nominations will be done on August 2 while the final date of withdrawal of nominations is August 8. Elections for the general body will be held on August 12.

Some WFI officials were taken by surprise by some of the names in the electoral college. A top wrestling official said they will raise a complaint with the returning officer as some of the names in the electoral college were not part of the respective associations, which is not compliant with the WFI constitution. For instance, “Prem Chand Lochab is not part of the Gujarat association. He is from the Railways. Same with Devender, who is from Haryana and is representing Assam. Also Anita, who is a former wrestler, will represent Odisha. We are surprised how these names which are not part of any state unit of WFI have been included,” the official said.

 Devender Singh Kadyan, who is the chairman of the Mannat Group of Hotels, from Haryana is likely to contest for a key position in the federation. Anita Sheoran is one of the witnesses in the sexual harassment case against Singh and is employed with the Haryana police. Anita Sheoran, who is one of the witnesses in the sexual harassment case against Singh, has been named in the list as Odisha representative for the August 12 polls. The 38-year-old Sheoran, the 2010 CWG gold medallist, hails from Haryana and is employed with the state police. Similarly, Prem Chand Lochab’s name figures as a representative from Gujarat when he is actually the secretary of Railways Sports Promotion Board (RSPB). Also, Assam has been given voting rights following the ad-hoc panel’s surprise decision to grant membership to the state.

While Singh, who is the UP president and his son Karan, who is vice president in the same state body, have not entered, the outgoing chief’s son-in-law Vishal Singh will be a representative from Bihar in the polls. Maharashtra and Tripura will not have any representatives at the elections as the Returning officer deemed claims of both factions from the former “ineligible” while Tripura has remained disaffiliated since 2016. Two representatives from each state unit will be allowed to vote.

Not new to controversies

Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, who until recently had been the chief of the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) for the past 12 years, has denied the allegations. He accuses the wrestlers of being “politically motivated” and recently said he would “hang himself even if a single allegation is proved” against him. However, after months of headline-making protests by wrestlers – and a nudge from the Supreme Court – police in the capital Delhi registered two cases against him in April. Seven female wrestlers told the police that he had molested and groped them at training camps and tournaments. As one of them is a minor, police invoked the stringent Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (Pocso) Act. However, the minor later withdrew the complaint.

 Born on 8 January 1957 in Gonda district in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, the six-term MP claims substantial support in a number of parliamentary constituencies and analysts say with general elections due next year, he is expected to play a pivotal role.

Singh, who studied law in college and participated in wrestling competitions in his youth, became politically active while he was a student and joined the BJP in 1988. He was elected to parliament in 1991.

 He first came into prominence for aggressively participating in the BJP’s movement for the construction of a temple in the town of Ayodhya. Along with several party leaders and workers, he was named as an accused in the December 1992 demolition of the 16th-century Babri Mosque. Years later, they were all absolved.

Despite the controversy surrounding him at present, Singh insists that he will contest next year’s elections. Recently, he addressed a rally – his first since the allegations – in his home town where he arrived in a huge convoy, leading a 25km-roadshow that was seen as a show of strength by analysts. In Gonda and some of the adjoining districts, where Mr Singh and his family own and run more than 50 schools and colleges, he enjoys tremendous popularity.