The sad frames of India’s foremost and decorated wrestlers, women included, sitting in the open in Delhi to allege sexual harassment by a BJP MP has exposed the ruling party in a manner few incidents have in recent times.
This may sound strange to those considering how the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has shed its once democratic ethos to embrace a culture that is sickeningly undemocratic.
Yet, much of its feuds have been with predictable foes: those in politics who want to bring it down, those ideologically challenging Hindutva, the moneyed class who may have rubbed it the wrong way earlier, and of course minorities, Muslims in particular, who the BJP and allied groups love to hate.
The protesting wrestlers occupy none of these stations.
Nothing to do with BJP
I highly doubt if the wrestlers, almost all of them Hindus and of humble origin, would have had anything against the BJP or its ideology per se even if the man facing their ire, Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, is a member of the Lok Sabha elected on the party’s ticket.
Indeed, most of the wrestlers are champions who are unlikely to gain anything — indeed, they might suffer in the long run — by camping at the Jantar Mantar protest site in the heart of the national capital.
Also read: Go to Jantar Mantar, listen to ‘mann ki baat’ of protesting women wrestlers: Sibal to Modi
The wrestlers certainly did not pick Jantar Mantar as their first option. In any case, many of them are national icons who have won medals for India in global competitions and have been personally felicitated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Even if we take a narrow legalistic view that the allegations against the chief of the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) have not been proved in a court of law, it would be fair and logical to assume that so many wrestlers would not have made the complaints if the man in question was a saint.
As the saying goes, where there is smoke, there is fire. In both politics and public life, perceptions are important.
Having endured the WFI boss for long, the wrestlers would have assumed — in the light of their own status — and on the strength of discussions among themselves that the government would certainly act on their complaint because they had no grouse against the BJP per se.
Theirs was simply an issue — a major one at that — against an individual who happened to be with the BJP, the ruling party.
This is where the government blundered.
The Union government set up a committee to probe the allegations but anyone could make out from its conduct that its sympathies lay with the cornered MP.
After all, a sensitive government or ruling party could have averted a larger crisis by advising Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh to step down until an official probe found him guilty or exonerated him. He would not have had the guts to defy the BJP leadership. As the wrestlers are respected more nationally than the MP; both the government and the BJP would have scored brownie points had they acted thus.
Also read: Protesting wrestlers hit back at WFI chief; Delhi Police provide security to complainants
Instead, the probe committee report seemingly went into cold storage — a disease from the earlier Congress era. No FIR was filed — until the Supreme Court pulled up the authorities. When the wrestlers realized they had been dumped in the cold, they took to the streets — and unlike what they did earlier, invited all and sundry to back them.
The government could have extended an olive branch to the wrestlers even at this stage. Such a gesture would have been widely appreciated in a country where guilty politicians often go scot free if linked to the powers that be.
Now, we have nauseating scenes of BJP MLAs in Uttar Pradesh garlanding Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh and declaring he is not guilty — forget what the probe has found out. The MP himself gloats that the wrestlers did not send him to the Lok Sabha! More shockingly, PT Usha, the Indian Olympic Association chief and a woman at that, says the wrestlers are shaming India by staging a public protest!
Only the gullible will assume that these statements are devoid of the government’s blessings.
The new BJP
What does the wrestlers’ saga show?
It reveals that the BJP has reached a stage in nine years where it cannot accept any dissent or complaint if it somehow — even remotely — sullies a carefully nurtured image of the party. It does not matter who makes the complaint and how sincere he or she may be. Anything that dents the standing of a can-do-no-wrong Prime Minister or BJP will be spiked. Such an alternate viewpoint will not be allowed to occupy prime space (or any space) in mainstream media. Those raking up such issues will not be forgiven. The complainant need not be an opposition party or a Hindutva antagonistic or a minority.
But wasn’t this true for the farmers’ agitation too? They, too, were not sponsored by the opposition and their battle was not against Hindutva. True, many of the farmers were Sikhs, a minority, but it is one minority which Hindutva forces don’t mind putting up with unlike, say, Muslims or Christians.
Also read: WFI chief showers praise on Akhilesh Yadav for not siding with protesting wrestlers
The fact, however, is that many of the leading farmers’ organizations which took to the streets were aligned with political parties, including varying shades of the Left. To that extent, they had a certain political-ideological framework even if that wasn’t their dominant identity. In any case, on the issue of farm economics, the farmers — at least those who protested — were bitterly ranged against the government.
The protesting wrestlers, in that way, are a unique species. Their protest will help many to understand the present nature of the BJP. In an earlier era, when the BJP tried to induct DP Yadav, a controversial politician from western Uttar Pradesh, a hue and cry forced the party to hurriedly backtrack.
That BJP is gone. That era is over.