"Feel The Pain": On Wrestlers' Protest, Haryana BJP's Dilemma

With the Lok Sabha and Haryana Assembly polls on the horizon next year, the wresters' protest has stoked discomfort within the BJP.

'Feel The Pain': On Wrestlers' Protest, Haryana BJP's Dilemma

The wrestlers have been protesting since January.

New Delhi:

A sense of unease appears to be growing within the ranks of the BJP's unit in Haryana over the central government's handling of the protest by a group of wrestlers, involving grave allegations of sexual harassment against their federation chief, now in its fifth month.

The protest is spearheaded by three of the country's top wrestlers - Sakshi Malik, Vinesh Phogat, and Bajrang Punia - all natives of Haryana who have accused the government of not doing enough to address their charges against Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, a BJP MP and chief of the Wrestling Federation of India.

Mr Singh has denied all allegations, and the government, which insists the police investigation is proceeding fairly, has been increasingly stern in its responses to the wrestlers, even flushing out the protest site when the demonstration tried to march to the new parliament building on Sunday.

With the Lok Sabha and Haryana Assembly polls on the horizon next year, the campaign has stoked discomfort within the BJP, earning unexpected support from some leaders of the state, including from Hisar MP Brijendra Singh and Haryana Home Minister Anil Vij.

"I feel the pain and helplessness of our wrestlers, forcing them to the brink of throwing away their lifetime of hard work - the medals from Olympics, CWGs, Asian Games in the holy Ganga. Absolutely heartbreaking," Mr Singh tweeted this week as the wrestlers trooped to Haridwar.

Mr Vij had said last month, "The case of wrestling players who are protesting at Jantar Mantar has been taken over on the higher side. I myself have been the minister of the sports department, and I am completely with the players. If I have to speak or say anything higher in the government, I will do so."

Despite growing support for the wrestlers, the Haryana BJP leadership has yet to officially take a stance on the issue. Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar has refrained from intervening, stating that "the issue is not related to Haryana" but the players' teams and the union government.

The wrestlers' protest has been bolstered by backing from strong farmers' unions in the state, with talks of a mass protest against Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh. Opposition parties, including the Congress and the INLD, have also thrown their weight behind the wrestlers.

Former Union Minister Birender Singh has been vocal about the issue, meeting with the wrestlers and raising the matter with BJP President JP Nadda, stressing that the party's credibility is at stake, The Indian Express reported.

He called for an amicable resolution to the issue at the earliest and emphasized the need for reforms in the way sports federations are run.

Haryana BJP president Om Prakash Dhankar also told the newspaper that he raised the issue with Union Sports Minister Anurag Thakur, emphasizing that the protesting wrestlers deserve justice.

Mr Thakur, however, has urged the wrestlers to "trust" the Delhi Police investigation and "be patient" until its conclusion.

"My dear athletes, you should trust the investigation being carried out by the Delhi Police... I urge the wrestlers to be patient until the outcome of the investigation. I also urge them not to take any step that could undermine sports or hurt any sportsperson," he said on Wednesday.

In a more combative statement, his colleague Smriti Irani questioned why the wrestlers' protest had not won the support of Babita Phogat, a former wrestler and BJP MP who has distanced herself from the second wave of protests that flared in April and is still working closely with the government.

"I had a chat with Babita Phogat ji. Do you think a world-famous wrestler like Babita Phogat will sit with the people who exploited others and especially her family members? Do you think Babita Phogat will stand against her family members just like that?" Ms Irani told Times Now channel.