On May 19, Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, the BJP MP from Kaiserganj in Uttar Pradesh and the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) chief, announced his plan to organise a ‘Jan Chetna Maha Rally’ in Ayodhya’s Ramkatha Park, on June 5. Within hours, most of the major crossroads in four districts under the Devipatan administrative division — Gonda, Bahraich, Balarampur, Shravasti — and neighbouring districts of Ayodhya and Barabanki were filled with large posters of Mr. Singh, who is facing two FIRs, including one under the POCSO Act, for allegedly sexually harassing women wrestlers. In the posters, he was seen urging everyone to join the rally organised to deliberate on “the evil” of provincialism, regionalism and caste conflict promoted by some parties.
In next 10 days, Mr. Singh toured the length and breadth of these districts, his stronghold, at times in a helicopter, addressing over 30 meetings of supporters and crying innocence. Many of these gatherings saw a sizeable participation of people, indicating the influence he has built over the years.
Born on January 8, 1957, in Bishnoharpur village in Gonda district in a well-off Rajput family, Brij Bhushan Singh’s grandfather was an MLA from the Congress. He studied at Saket P.G. College in Ayodhya, where he got first-hand experience of student politics, joining the Congress youth wing in the late 1970s. In the 1970s and 80s, the he faced multiple police cases including charges of theft, murder, dacoity, attempt to murder, and kidnapping and also under the stringent Gangsters and Goonda Acts. As per his 2019 election affidavit, Mr. Singh, faces four criminal cases, including serious charges of robbery and attempt to murder.
Mr. Singh was good in assessing the political environment of Uttar Pradesh and joined the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which started becoming a force to reckon with in the Hindi heartland in late 1980s. While spending his student days in Ayodhya, the centre of the Ram Mandir agitation, Mr. Singh emerged as a local face of the saffron party. He entered the Lok Sabha on the BJP ticket for the first time in 1991 from Gonda. Since then, there has been no turning back.
The 1990s were eventful for both the country and Mr. Singh. He was named as an accused in the Babri Masjid demolition case and charged under the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA) for allegedly sheltering shooters of a notorious criminal group of U.P., forcing his wife Ketki Devi Singh to fight the 1996 Lok Sabha polls from Gonda. In 1993, the Rajput leader had been accused of attacking a former U.P. Minister and another local strongman in Gonda. He was later acquitted in most of these cases. After entering Parliament for the third time from Gonda in 1999, Mr. Singh consolidated his hold further in districts and regional politics, with his wife Ketki Devi Singh getting elected as district panchayat president in Gonda several times.
Weeks after being elected from the Balrampur Lok Sabha constituency, once represented by former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee, in the 2004 elections, a family tragedy befell Mr. Singh. Shakti Saran, his eldest son, shot himself dead with a licensed pistol of Mr. Singh. He had left a note, which read: “You have not proved yourself to be a good father. You did not take care of us — my brothers, me and sister. When we needed money, you did not oblige. We had to borrow from others. You said I would be your representative, but all you want me to do is attend weddings. I hope after my death you will look after my brothers and sister well.”
The incident changed the parliamentarian a great deal, say people close to him. “In the past, he was involved in activities as a contractor leading to criminal cases, but since the incident, he tried to change his image and hardly disturbed anyone,” said Uday Prakash Tiwari, a resident of Gonda. Mr. Singh established a chain of educational institutions from Bachelor of Education (B.Ed) colleges to Inter and Degree colleges under districts of Devipatan division. In 2009, he joined the Samajwadi Party (SP), alleging that the BJP ignored him. For the SP, he was a prize catch as he won from Kaiserganj in the same year. Before the 2014 polls, however, Mr. Singh returned to the BJP, vowing to never again leave the party. In the meantime, he strengthened his hold over the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI), defeating Congress leader Deependra Singh Hooda in its presidential polls.
Since January, when the wrestlers’ protest against Mr. Singh started and Khap panchayats and farmers from Haryana’s hinterland started giving ultimatums to the government to take action against him, the ‘Bahubali’ politician has been under pressure. But various Rajput organisations came out in support of him with a Rajput Mahasabha of Muzaffarnagar going as far as describing the wrestlers’ protest as unethical, adding that the Rajput community would not tolerate the politicisation of this issue based on caste, hinting at the protest’s predominantly Jat participation.
The Rajput consolidation is not limited to U.P. Associations of other States also held similar meetings, expressing solidarity with the six-time MPalleging that a section of politicians are playing caste politics over the issue. Despite the allegations and continuing protests, Mr. Singh seems undeterred. In a public meeting on May 29, in Barabanki, he said, “If a single allegation is proved against me, I will hang myself.”