Brijbhushan vs. Brand Modi

Brand Modi is not yet so fragile that it needs a history sheeter

There is a saying in Hindi nang badey parmeshwar sey, which means a naked man is greater than God—he fears not even God, and has nothing to hide.

Nothing captures more aptly the naked callousness of the Union government, the Delhi Police, BJP ministers and spokespersons and some media channels toward the accusations of sexual harassment by a large group of India’s women wrestlers against the BJP MP Brijbhushan Sharan Singh, long-time president of the Wrestling Federation of India.

Singh is himself a picture of the utter shamelessness that total impunity grants to those in power. He has continuously denied allegations, rallying supporters to discredit the women athletes and even planning a mahapanchayat with Ayodhya-based seers to demand a watering down of the POCSO Act (Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act). While the governor of UP denied permission for the mahapanchayat to be held, one cannot help wondering why seers would lend their support to such an unholy cause spearheaded by someone accused of acts that are clearly morally reprehensible?

The wrestlers—who began the sit-in protest in January 2023, took a break and then resumed in April 2023—were arrested by the Delhi Police for protesting at the site of the new parliament building. Awful images of our champion women athletes being dragged through the streets populated social media much to the horror of any sane-minded citizen. They have since been released and charges against them have been dropped. The wrestlers have in the meantime garnered a lot of international support, including from the international governing body of the sport—United World Wrestling. After the athletes were dissuaded from throwing their Olympic medals into the Ganges, the government has finally assured action, claiming that the WFI presidential elections will be held on July 4, and neither Singh nor any of his family will be allowed to contest. The wrestlers have halted their protest, giving Delhi Police a deadline to arrest Singh and commence a proper and fair investigation.

However, some facets of the sordid business raise questions. The father of the minor, who had alleged sexual harassment that led to POCSO charges being levelled at Singh, has changed his statement claiming he lied about his daughter’s age. This means the most legally incriminating and non-bailable charge against the accused no longer holds. Olympic medalist Bajranj Punia has since claimed that the minor’s father is being ‘pressured’. The Delhi Police have also asked the wrestlers to furnish ‘proof and evidence’ against Singh, a bizarre demand considering that investigation and finding proof is normally accepted to be the job of the police.

These protests are not the first instance where the government’s brazen indifference to women’s safety and seeming patronage to a sexual predator has been witnessed. The infamous Unnao rape accused BJP MLA Kuldeep Sengar has long been shielded by the BJP, which also repealed the conviction of Bilkis Bano’s 11 gang-rapists and released them just before the Gujarat assembly elections. But, even cynically speaking, one must ask why in the face of such international scrutiny, attention and public criticism does the Modi government continue to shield Singh even as Modi’s own image as a women’s rights champion is shown to be a farce? Is it simply because Singh, a history-sheeter with more than 30 criminal cases against him and a case alleging harbouring Dawood Ibrahim’s shooters, is an eastern UP strongman with a loyal Thakur votebank? Surely UP’s biggest Thakur leader is Yogi Adityanath? And surely Brand Modi is not yet so fragile that it needs a history-sheeter with a sordid past to garner those few Thakur votes in eastern UP? Is it electoral calculation or a balancing of power equations within UP BJP?

Or, is it simply that after the victory of the farmers’ protest, the 56-inch-chest can no longer be seen as succumbing to yet another citizens’ protest however damning the details…. because the Modi government has understood that the Indian voter just doesn’t care for the safety or dignity of Indian women?

The writer is an award-winning Bollywood actor and sometime writer and social commentator.