Monday, Dec 25, 2023

As Centre steps in to suspend WFI, deciphering what forced BJP’s hand

At a time when the ruling party had the Opposition cornered over the Dhankhar mimicry episode, the row triggered by the election of Brij Bhushan Singh’s aide as WFI president is likely to have threatened the party’s Jat outreach.

brij bhushan sharan singh BJP MP Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh addressing the media after the Sports Ministry suspended the newly-elected Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) body for not following rules. (PTI)

Emerging from a meeting with BJP president J P Nadda hours after the Sports Ministry suspended the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI), following outrage over the election of his close aide Sanjay Singh as president on December 21, former WFI chief and BJP MP Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh said he had nothing to do with the sports body any longer and was “done with wrestling”.

Following Sanjay Singh’s election, Olympic medallist Sakshi Malik, one of the six women wrestlers who have accused Brij Bhushan of sexual harassment, announced she was quitting the sport and fellow Olympic medallist Bajrang Punia left his Padma Shri medallion on a footpath at Delhi’s Kartavya Path.

The sudden turn of events marked the culmination of a week where the BJP reached out to Jats in particular and Haryana in general months before the Lok Sabha elections. “The newly elected WFI president Sanjay Singh flouted rules by announcing U-16 and U-20 nationals at Gonda in UP before year-end without notice and without the general secretary having any knowledge of it. So, the ministry took the decision, whichever way you read it,” said a government official.


Asked if this was a calculated move to send a signal to Jats and the voters of Haryana — that the BJP was with them — the official said just like Sanjay Singh, the wrestlers also jumped the gun and went into protest mode without exercising all available options within the system. Significantly, Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi met Malik and Punia on December 22.

Even as the Sports Ministry remained tight-lipped about why the decision was suddenly taken, three days after the results of the federation elections were announced, events this week illustrate why the BJP found it necessary to prevent the WFI row from derailing its Jat outreach.

Festive offer

The suspension of the wrestling federation came a day after UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath unveiled a 51-foot statue of former Prime Minister Chaudhary Charan Singh in Moradabad on his birth anniversary. Earlier this week, the BJP also positioned itself as a party that stands up for Jat pride and targeted the Opposition after a video emerged of Trinamool Congress (TMC) MP Kalyan Banerjee ostensibly mimicking Vice President and Rajya Sabha chairman Jagdeep Dhankar who is from the Jat community and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi recording it. The incident occurred last week when the Opposition was protesting on Parliament premises the suspension of MPs. As the video went viral, not just Dhankar but Union Minister Prahlad Joshi too said in Parliament that mimicking the Vice President was an insult to Jats, farmers, and a constitutional post.

“First, they insulted the Prime Minister because he came from a poor background, he belongs to the OBC community. Even after he became the Prime Minister, they have insulted him. They have insulted Rashtrapati who is a tribal woman. For the first time, a farmer’s son of the Jat community has risen to occupy such a high constitutional position of Vice President but they have been insulting this constitutional position also,” Joshi said in the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday.


Jats are an influential agrarian community spread across Haryana, western UP, and Rajasthan. Jat-Sikhs are also found in large numbers in Punjab. In Rajasthan and UP, Jats are on the OBC list. Traditionally, Jats in Rajasthan, where Dhankhar is from, were Congress supporters but split in significant numbers in support of the BJP in the last 20 years. In western UP and Haryana, too, increasing numbers of Jats have been with the BJP over the last 10 years. The shift in UP happened after the Muzaffarnagar riots of 2013. Jats constitute about 28% of Haryana’s population and a quarter of the electorate. Barring northern Haryana, they have a strong presence everywhere else in the state.

During the year-long farm protests against the now-repealed agrarian laws, the BJP faced quite a bit of visible protest from Jat farmers who surrounded the national capital for a year starting in 2020. Another moment of friction between the government and Jats was during the wrestlers’ protest against Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh earlier this year. Given that they are likely to be a significant factor in north-western India in the Lok Sabha polls — including Haryana where Assembly elections are scheduled to be held later in 2024 — the party would have found it imperative to act in the WFI episode.

Vikas Pathak is deputy associate editor with The Indian Express and writes on national politics. He has over 17 years of experience, and has worked earlier with The Hindustan Times and The Hindu, among other publications. He has covered the national BJP, some key central ministries and Parliament for years, and has covered the 2009 and 2019 Lok Sabha polls and many state assembly polls. He has interviewed many Union ministers and Chief Ministers. Vikas has taught as a full-time faculty member at Asian College of Journalism, Chennai; Symbiosis International University, Pune; Jio Institute, Navi Mumbai; and as a guest professor at Indian Institute of Mass Communication, New Delhi. Vikas has authored a book, Contesting Nationalisms: Hinduism, Secularism and Untouchability in Colonial Punjab (Primus, 2018), which has been widely reviewed by top academic journals and leading newspapers. He did his PhD, M Phil and MA from JNU, New Delhi, was Student of the Year (2005-06) at ACJ and gold medalist from University Rajasthan College in Jaipur in graduation. He has been invited to top academic institutions like JNU, St Stephen’s College, Delhi, and IIT Delhi as a guest speaker/panellist. ... Read More

First published on: 24-12-2023 at 20:36 IST
Latest Comment
Post Comment
Read Comments