Khattar govt in a spot over sexual misconduct slur on Minister

Though CM Khattar has thrown his weight behind Minister Sandeep Singh after a junior woman coach accused him of molesting her, the incident has sullied the image of the BJP-JJP government in Haryana besides giving a handle to the opposition, writes Rajendra Khatry

The alleged molestation of a junior woman coach  by Haryana Sports minister Sandeep Singh has tarnished the image of the BJP-JJP  government in Haryana that professes protection of women and girl child and promotes `Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao’ scheme in the state.

With serious allegations levelled against him, protecting Sandeep Singh at this stage may cost BJP dear in future. The Congress, INLD and AAP are sure to raise the matter aggressively. The Bharat Jodo Yatra of Rahul Gandhi has strengthened the Haryana Congress and any negative impression now against the government will damage BJP’s prospects in future elections.

The opposition parties too have got a new stick to beat the coalition government. Haryana Khap panchayats opened a front against Sandeep Singh and demanded his arrest and sacking from the cabinet. The decision taken in the Dhankhar-12 khap was also supported in the Sarv Khap Mahapanchayat held in Jharoda village of Delhi later.

Haryana is a powerhouse of sports and the Haryana government takes credit for promoting a sports culture. But in this embarrassing incident, a sports minister is pitted against a talented woman coach.

What is worse is that the BJP-JJP government has given the impression of protecting Sandeep Singh even before the probe report is out. Chief Minister Manohar Lal gave him a clean chit. He said a person is not guilty till his crime is established. “An investigation in the case is going on. Mere allegation cannot make a person guilty’’, he told the media. Despite pressures from the opposition, khaps and supporters of the coach, the CM said he will wait for the probe report before taking any decision in the case. The CM said for a fair probe he had already taken away the sports department from Sandeep  Singh.

On his part Sandeep Singh also did everything to thwart all moves to get trapped despite serious allegations, but later under tremendous pressure for his ouster and arrest, he did step down from the sports department after he was named in the sexual harassment case by a junior coach, but not as a minister. He retained the department of Youth Affairs to remain a minister in the Haryana cabinet. Now his Sports portfolio has been taken over by the Chief Minister.

The coach gave a complaint to the Chandigarh police. The statement recorded by the junior coach was very disturbing. According to her, “he (Sandeep Singh) touched my thighs and said he liked me. He also asked me not to run here and there and said that he would get me sponsored and also help me get my Instagram account verified if I made him `happy.’ He also tried to kiss me forcefully but I pushed him away. He also told me that other girls (players) never said no to him.”

Chandigarh SIT later identified the person who offered a bribe of Rs 1 crore to the victim to keep her mouth shut and it has sent notice to the person to join the investigation. SIT  questioned Sandeep Singh for 7 hours at the Sector 26-police station. It also took into custody two mobile phones of Singh to check the deleted chats with the coach.

The coach had alleged that former Olympian, Sandeep Singh, a minister in the Haryana coalition government had harassed her from February to November 2022. He had allegedly sent repeated messages on social media to her and had touched her inappropriately. She kept quiet for a long time, but finally came out in the open.

Once the allegations came out, Sandeep Singh, a first time MLA and minister from Pehowa in Kurukshetra gave up his sports portfolio on “moral grounds”, according to him. He also termed the allegations against him as an attempt to spoil his image. He expressed hope that there will be a thorough investigation into the matter.

Later on the complaint of the coach, the Chandigarh Police booked Singh under sections 354 (assault or use of criminal force against a woman with intent to outrage her modesty), 354 A (sexual harassment), 354 B (compelling her to be naked), 342 (wrongful confinement) and 506 (criminal intimidation) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

Sandeep Singh has had a brilliant career as a hockey player of repute. Earlier in the year 2004 in Athens, Singh created a record by becoming the youngest Indian hockey player to represent the country in the Olympics. Then In 2005, he made headlines when he became the highest scorer in the Junior World Cup. He scored as many as 10 goals. This earned him the nickname of ‘Flicker Singh’. Singh was later included in the senior hockey team for the 2006 Hockey World Cup.

But a freak accident changed his life. On 22 August 2006, Singh was travelling from Chandigarh to New Delhi, by the Kalka Shatabdi Express, to join his teammates when a Railway Police Force (RPF) officer who was seated behind his compartment accidentally pulled the trigger while cleaning his rifle. The bullet hit Singh in his spine.

Sandeep Singh was later admitted to PGIMER in Chandigarh. The doctors expressed fear that he could be paralysed for life from the waist down which may destroy his career. The courageous Singh survived the accident though. The worst did not happen. He did not lose hope. He recovered slowly.

With the help of physical rehabilitation and a strong will he got back to the field again and also found his place back in the national hockey team. In the 2008 Sultan Azlan Shah Cup he emerged as the top scorer. Then next year under his captaincy, India won the prestigious Sultan Azlan Shah Cup. India also made its way to the Olympics. He played for some more years and then retired in the year 2016.

In the year 2019 Sandeep Singh joined the BJP and contested the elections from the Pehowa assembly segment. He was successful in his maiden attempt and defeated Mandeep Singh Chatha who was the son of Congress leader and former Haryana Speaker HS Chatha. Despite being a first timer, he was inducted into the BJP-JJP coalition government’s Cabinet as the sports minister and Minister of Printing and Stationery (MoS) (Independent Charge).

A biographical movie `Soorma’ was made on Sandeep’s life in 2016. It starred  Diljit Dosanjh and Tapsee Pannu in lead roles. He also participated in a reality show later.

Meanwhile a Sarvajatiya Mahapanchayat was recently organised at Shaheed Udham Singh Memorial in Haryana in support of former captain of the Indian hockey team and Sports Minister Sandeep Singh where hundreds of people demanded from the Haryana government and the police administration that until the allegations levelled against the sports minister by the women coach are not proved, no person or caste should use social media or any other means against Sandeep Singh.

Sandeep has had a brilliant career as a hockey player. He was a prolific scorer. Before his political foray, Sandeep Singh had earned world acclaim as ‘Flicker Singh’ for his abilities on the hockey turf. He also remained the captain of the national hockey team in 2009 and 2010.

Singh’s drag flicks were world famous. His drag-flick speed was measured at phenomenal speeds above 145 km per hour, one of the best in the world. Sandeep’s lightning moves, dribbling abilities and skills with the hockey stick were very much evident in the games he played. But all his memorable achievements may come to nought if he is found guilty and arrested.