Ask Vir Ask Vir

Brij Bhushan can ride high while the wrestlers can sob silently

The story of the ongoing wrestlers’ protest is one of dull predictability and political surprise.

The manner in which the Centre has reacted to the allegations of sexual harassment against Wrestling Federation of India president and BJP MP Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh offers us an insight into the way this government thinks.


And, as bizarre as this sounds, an example of why Narendra Modi is regarded by his supporters as a strong Prime Minister.


   The predictable elements are clearly on display. Seven wrestlers, including a minor, have accused Singh and other coaches of WFI of sexually harassing them over the years.


   Brij Bhushan is not a medal-winning champion, unlike many of those who are protesting. He is a Lok Sabha MP from Uttar Pradesh’s Kaiserganj constituency. His tenure at the WFI offers another illustration of the cherished Indian sports tradition, which dictates that all sporting bodies should be run by politicians and their families.


   Nor is Brij Bhushan a particularly wholesome character. He has four cases pending against him, including for robbery and attempted murder. In the mid-1990s, he spent several months in jail under TADA for allegedly sheltering members of the Dawood Ibrahim gang. Anyone who has seen the video of him slapping a wrestler on stage will have some idea of what he is like.


   As The Print’s Political Editor DK Singh pointed out recently, Singh was prosecuted in a case of attempt to murder but acquitted after the court pulled up the investigators for making no effort to collect evidence. Brij Bhushan does not pretend to be a man of peace either. He admitted on camera last year, “I have committed one murder in my life. Whatever people may say, I have committed one murder.”


   This is the man the wrestlers are protesting against. Unfortunately for them, he is also a BJP MP with the power to influence election results. This is why he is being treated differently from non-politicians who would have been finished off by such high-profile allegations of sexual harassment.


   The pro-government media channels have cast doubts on the motives and credibility of the wrestlers. And prominent sports persons have been reluctant to come out in support of the wrestlers in distress. Indian Olympic Association (IOA) president PT Usha, reading perhaps from the same State-sponsored brief as the TV anchors do every evening, even attacked the wrestlers for their protest.


   This was a double-win for politicians. Not only did Usha support one of their numbers but she also damaged the argument that sports bodies should be run by sportspeople rather than politicians. Put a sportsperson in charge of a federation and he or she may turn out to be as venal as any politician as this instance demonstrates.


   That is the dully predictable part of this story: attack one of its leaders and the BJP will mobilise all its assets in support of that leader. And others who would normally have spoken out will either be too terrified to say anything or, like Usha, attack the victims who say they have been sexually harassed.


   But here’s the surprising thing: why hasn’t Prime Minister Modi intervened? After all, Modi spends a lot of time talking about his commitment to women. In the 100th edition of Mann Ki Baat (broadcast as the wrestlers were protesting), he bragged about his government’s role in empowering women in “our army or the sports world”. He was either unmindful of the irony or wanted to send a message to the wrestlers.


"This has been Modi’s strategy: never listen, never explain, and never give in to agitations."

   How can a government whose slogans include “Beti Bachao” (save the daughter) continue to back Brij Bhushan Singh? Is it not embarrassed that its critics are now saying that the slogan should be changed to “Beti Ko Hamare Se Bachao” (save the daughters from us)?


   The Delhi Police (which reports to the Centre) refused to even file an FIR against Singh until the Supreme Court intervened. The message that goes out is that as far as the political establishment is concerned, the wrestlers are not victims; they are the enemy.


   Many explanations have been offered for the government’s attitude toward the wrestlers. Most focus on Brij Bhushan Singh himself. Not only has he won many elections, he is also said to exert influence in several constituencies. This, apparently, is why the BJP, which is busy assuring the women of Karnataka that it will protect them, will do nothing about Brij Bhushan.


   This is probably a valid explanation. But I don’t think that this is all there is to it. Modi knows that one reason why all the charges of corruption and impropriety levelled against the UPA stuck was because Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi sacked people at the slightest provocation. All that media had to do was focus on a story and the person allegedly involved in the scandal would immediately be dropped.


   The Congress leadership did this out of some naive belief that people would see the government as being committed to the highest standards of governance.


   In fact, the sackings had the opposite effect. People believed that the charges were valid: why else would ministers be sacked? The government made the same sort of mistake with street protests. It gave legitimacy to India Against Corruption, which was, in reality, a small, largely Delhi-focussed media phenomenon, by deputing official delegations to talk to Arvind Kejriwal, thereby acting as midwife to the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). When Ramdev came to Delhi, it sent six ministers to the airport in the hope of persuading him to call off his agitation.


   As it turned out, very few of the corruption charges led to any successful prosecutions — even after the UPA was defeated and the Modi government took over. And often, the charges did not even involve actual corruption. Shashi Tharoor was sacked on the word of Lalit Modi (how is that for irony?). Natwar Singh saw his ministerial career end in ignominy even though nothing was ever proved against him.


   Narendra Modi recognises how stupid and foolish this policy was. Not only did it make the UPA look like a government of scams, it also made Manmohan Singh look weak. It encouraged the media to pick on the government regularly and it also encouraged the subversion of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG)’s office, which set out to win publicity by making charges that could not be sustained.


   All this worked to Modi’s advantage. Faced with this chaos, voters longed for a strong leader who had an image of having no interest in making money for himself.


   The Modi government is determined not to make the same mistake — even when the charges are real and not the creation of a publicity-hungry CAG’s office or a part of a media frenzy.


   Early in the life of this government when there were charges against Sushma Swaraj, the media, used to their experience with the UPA, waited for her to be sacked. But nothing happened. She survived and the allegations were forgotten. This has been Modi’s strategy: never listen, never explain, and never give in to agitations.


   Only rarely does the government bend to public pressure. It finally gave in to the farmer’s agitation because it was worried about the UP election. It sacked MJ Akbar but he was never a Modi favourite. And there are only a few other occasions when it has acceded to public pressure.


   But it is always a shrewd cost-benefit analysis, not the self-righteous, knee-jerk reaction that the UPA believed in.


   So it is with the wrestlers. If the BJP feels that their protest will influence the Karnataka election (which it hasn’t so far) or seriously affect Modi’s image, it will act.


   Otherwise, Brij Bhushan Singh can ride high. And the wrestlers can sob silently into the wind.



Posted On: 04 May 2023 11:25 AM
Your email id will not be published.
Security code:
Captcha Enter the code shown above:
Your email id will not be published.
Friend's Name:
Friend's E-mail:
Your email id will not be published.
The Message text:
This email was created by [your name] who thought you would be interested in the following Article:

A Vir Sanghvi Article Information

The Vir Sanghvi also contains hundreds of articles.

Additional Text:
Security code:
Captcha Enter the code shown above:

CommentsOther Articles

See All

Ask VirRead all

Connect with Virtwitter

@virsanghvi on
Vir Sanghvi