IMAGE: Protesting wrestlers Bajrang Punia and Vinesh Phogat are attempting to stop one of the top two contenders from winning the WFI elections. Photograph: Anushree Fadnavis/Reuters
India’s top grapplers Bajrang Punia, Vinesh Phogat and Sakshi Malik are reportedly making a last-ditch effort to ensure Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh’s close aide, Sanjay Singh, does not become the Wrestling Federation of India chief.
Two candidates — Brij Bhushan-loyalist Sanjay Singh and 2010 Commonwealth Games gold medallist Anita Sheoran — are in the fray for the WFI president’s post in the elections on Saturday.
The six wrestlers, who protested at Jantar Mantar for two months alleging Brij Bhushan sexually harassed women grapplers, have thrown their weight behind rival candidate Sheoran, who is also one of the witnesses in the sexual harassment case against the BJP leader.
A source close to the Bajrang, Vinesh and Sakshi camp told PTI on Thursday that the wrestlers had met Sports Minister Anurag Thakur in the morning and are hopeful of meeting Home Minister Amit Shah later in the day.
“The wrestlers are hopeful that the Home Minister could give them time today,” said the source on the condition of anonymity.
“Some mediator has given them assurance that after the Parliament session today, the Home Minister could meet them. They (wrestlers) met the Sports Minister in the morning and he apparently told them he will look into the matter,” the source added.
“The wrestlers conveyed their misgivings about Sanjay Singh from the Brij Bhushan camp getting elected to the post of president. The wrestlers said that while they had demanded none of Brij Bhushan’s relatives should contest the WFI elections, it also implied that none of his close aides should contest the polls.
“And, Sanjay Singh is a close aide of Brij Bhushan. He is probably a business partner of the BJP leader. They have a problem with him becoming WFI chief,” the source added.
“In that case, Brij Bhushan’s son could have contested… what’s the difference?”
Brij Bhushan, his son Karan and son-in-law Vishal Singh (Bihar wrestling body chief) are not in the fray for any post, following assurances given by the Sports Minister to the wrestlers that none of the BJP leader’s relatives will be part of the new WFI governing body.
“The wrestlers shared all these details with the minister. They want Anita Sheoran (a police officer from Haryana who has filed her nomination as a representative of the Odisha unit) to become WFI president and this is what they are going to request the Home Minister if they get to meet him,” the source added.
The source refused to divulge the whereabouts of wrestlers who had earlier in the day called a press conference at Rajghat but had to shelve the idea due to the imposition of Section 144 in the area owing to the Independence Day preparations.
“If somehow Brij Bhushan can be convinced (that Sanjay Singh should not contest) then the entire matter will get resolved in no time,” added the source.
“The wresters have no issues with who becomes the secretary, treasurer, joint secretary or senior vice-president. They only want that Sheoran becomes president.”
IMAGE: Both Vinesh and Bajrang might opt out of the World Championship trials set to be held next month. Photograph: Anushree Fadnavis/Reuters
A source close to the Brij Bhushan camp asked will the wrestlers withdraw all cases of sexual harassment against the BJP leader if Sanjay Singh doesn’t contest?
“Does that (Sanjay Singh not contesting) mean all the cases of sexual harassment will be withdrawn against Brij Bhushan. It is now not possible to pull out of the race. We are confident of winning the WFI elections,” the source said.
Earlier in the day, Vinesh had tweeted that due to Section 144 being imposed in and around Rajghat they had to cancel their press conference that was aimed at throwing light on the recent developments.
“The police have imposed Section 144 at Rajghat and have stopped us from holding a press conference. Will finalise the time and place of the next press conference soon,” Vinesh tweeted.
Rumours also circulated that the press conference would be held at the Master Chandgiram Akhada, and Jagdish Kaliraman, a former international wrestler and son of late Chandgiram, said he “came to know through the media that a press conference was scheduled at my place.”
“I was surprised to see a huge police posse at the akhada. No wrestler approached us requesting for a press conference, and none has visited the akhada. These were just rumours,” said Kaliraman.
Bajrang, Vinesh might skip Worlds trials
Olympic bronze medallist Bajrang and Asian Games gold medallist Vinesh are likely to miss the World Championships trials to be held later this month.
“Bajrang has said he hasn’t made up his mind on the Worlds trials to be held in Delhi in mid-August,” another source said.
The Indian Olympic Association-constituted ad-hoc committee for wrestling has reportedly left it to the new WFI governing body members (after they get elected) to take a call on the Worlds trials.
The Worlds will take place in Bulgaria from September 16 and the last date for sending entries by name is August 16. However, the IOA ad-hoc panel has taken “in principle” commitment from the international wrestling federation (UWW) to delay sending the entries.
Bajrang has apparently cited the short time span between the Worlds (September 16-24) and the Asian Games (September 23-October 8) for his indecision.
Bajrang and Vinesh have been given direct entries to the Asian Games, which has created a lot of controversy.