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Wednesday, July 06, 2022

Newsmaker | Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh: BJP’s ‘shaktishali’ wrestler-MP who wants to keep Raj Thackeray out of Ayodhya

Hailing from Gonda, Singh has been vocal about his Hindutva politics and was associated with the Ram Janmabhoomi movement.

Written by Lalmani Verma , Mihir Vasavda | Lucknow |
Updated: May 10, 2022 10:01:53 am
A six-term MP – five as BJP member and once, in 2009, as the SP candidate – Singh has represented Gonda and Balrampur in the past, and now Kaiserganj. (Express File Photo)

BJP MP from Kaiserganj Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, 65, likes a good fight. A wrestler – he calls himself “shaktishali” – who has spent much of his youth in the akhadas of Ayodhya, Singh has been the president of the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) for almost 10 years and vice-president of the United World Wrestling-Asia.

Even in his role as a politician, there’s nothing that excites Singh, 65, more than a good roll in the mud. And of late, Singh has been doing just that. He recently hit the headlines when he needled Samajwadi Party (SP) chief Akhilesh Yadav by calling his sulking colleague Azam Khan a “mass leader”. He also hit out at MNS chief Raj Thackeray over the Maharashtra politician’s proposed visit to Ayodhya on June 5 and warned that he will not be allowed to enter the city till he tenders a public apology “for humiliating north Indians”. The timing of Singh’s manoeuvre may be a little awkward for the BJP considering that there has been talk of the party’s growing closeness to the MNS in Maharashtra, but the MP has no such moral scruples.

“I will not allow Raj Thackeray, who humiliates North Indians, to enter Ayodhya. Before coming to Ayodhya, Raj Thackeray must apologise to all North Indians with folded hands. Unless Raj Thackeray publicly apologises, I request Chief Minister Shri Yogi Adityanath that he should not meet Raj Thackeray,” he tweeted, adding, “RSS, VHP and the common man played a role in the Ram temple movement. The Thackeray family has nothing to do with it.”

The BJP, however, has distanced itself from Singh’s position.

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“The call has been given by him in his personal capacity. BJP workers will join his protest only if the party asks us to,” said a BJP leader in Bahraich, dismissing Singh’s remarks as “publicity stunts”.

A six-term MP – five as BJP member and once, in 2009, as the SP candidate – Singh has represented Gonda and Balrampur in the past, and now Kaiserganj. His son Prateek Bhushan is a two-time MLA from Gonda Sadar.

Hailing from Gonda, Singh has been vocal about his Hindutva politics and was associated with the Ram Janmabhoomi movement. According to his 2019 election affidavit, Singh was named in the Babri demolition case.

In 2009, he flirted briefly with the SP, only to return to the BJP. “He was never a Samajwadi and the ideology didn’t inspire him, so returned to the BJP,” said a party leader close to Singh.

Singh has had his share of public bouts as wrestling federation chief.

Considered to be a hands-on administrator, with the last word on all things wrestling, he is a constant sight at tournaments, be it national or international, senior or junior. With a microphone in his hand, Singh oversees bouts and often shouts out instructions to referees, stops and starts bouts and, at times, even throws the rule book at the judges.

In January 2021, during the national championships in Noida, he suspended a Railways coach for being ‘too animated’ on the sidelines. He even demanded that the referees penalise a wrestler from Delhi because his supporters entered the field of play. It led to an impasse: the referees argued there was no provision for a penalty like this, but Singh kept on insisting. Ultimately, however, he relented.

Singh’s iron-fisted style has been par for the course at wrestling meets. On rare occasions when he isn’t present physically at a tournament, he monitors the proceedings virtually. During a women’s national championship in Agra last year, he had told this paper: “In March 2020, we had our national championships in Himachal Pradesh and I couldn’t go there. So, we installed cameras everywhere so I could see everything from my house in New Delhi.”

The players are acutely aware of Singh’s influence. So, at times, when they lose a controversial bout, they tend to lodge an appeal directly with him instead of approaching the judges – like former CWG medalist Narsingh Yadav did during the national championships last year.

One of the common sights at nationals is of players seeking Singh’s blessings by touching his feet.

“These are all strong men and women,” had said in the 2021 interview, referring to the wrestlers. “To control them, you need someone stronger. Is there anyone stronger here than me?”

To wrestle more control, Singh, after the Tokyo Olympics last year, demanded a bigger say in the planning for the Paris Games in 2024. He said the federation will keep a check on private, not-for-profit organisations that support the wrestlers and even came down heavily on the government for dealing directly with athletes under its flagship Target Olympic Podium Scheme.

Subsequently, in December 2021, he was made a member of the government’s Mission Olympic Cell, which monitors and plans the preparations for the Olympics.

Singh is also associated with more than 50 educational institutions that he has set up across Bahraich, Gonda, Balrampur, Ayodhya and Shrawasti districts of Uttar Pradesh.

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