A mahapanchayat in Haryana’s Kurukshetra on Friday gave the Centre a week’s time to initiate a dialogue on the wrestlers’ demand for the arrest of Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) chief and BJP MP Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh. If the government failed to reach an amicable resolution of the situation, the agitation at Jantar Mantar in Delhi will be resumed from June 9, it said.
Several top wrestlers have been demanding the arrest of the WFI president over the alleged sexual exploitation of female grapplers, including a minor. Mr. Singh has denied these charges
Announcing the decision after an hour-long meeting, Bharatiya Kisan Union chief Rakesh Tikait said, “The government has time till June 9 to resolve the matter, or we will accompany the children [wrestlers] to Jantar Mantar to resume the sit-in agitation.” The mahapanchayat was attended by several khap leaders and their supporters from Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi.
Wrestlers’ kin threatened
Mr. Tikait said that the khap leaders had spoken to the wrestlers and concluded that nothing less than the arrest of the WFI chief was acceptable to them, their families and society. He also claimed that the families of wrestlers were receiving threats and were scared.
Drawing parallels to the 13-month-long farmers’ agitation, he said that similar mahapanchayats would be held across the country as everyone was united on the wrestlers’ issue. “His arrest is the top priority,” he said.
Mr. Tikait had earlier said that feelers were being sent from the government for talks on the issue for the past couple of days, adding that the khap leaders must allow an opportunity to resolve the matter through dialogue.
With the wrestlers’ protest intensifying, the Ayodhya district administration denied permission to the BJP MP for his proposed ‘Jan Chetna Maha Rally’ on June 5 “in view of the events scheduled on the occasion of World Environment Day”. Circle Officer (Ayodhya) Shailendra Pratap Gautam told The Hindu that permission was denied as Ram Katha Park, the venue for the proposed rally, was pre-booked for other events.
Mr. Singh, however, said that he had postponed the rally for “a few days” due to the ongoing police investigation into the wrestlers’ allegations against him.
In a Facebook post, he said, “In the present situation, some political parties are trying to disturb the social harmony by promoting provincialism, regionalism and caste conflict by holding rallies at various places… But now that the police are investigating the allegations levelled by the wrestlers, respecting the directions of the Supreme Court, the ‘Jan Chetna Maha Rally’ and ‘Ayodhya Chalo’ programme have been postponed for a few days.”
Scuffles and support
The marathon mahapanchayat — with maximum participation from Haryana — witnessed several unruly scenes, with the participants on the dais violently jostling against each other and even coming to blows at one point. A minor scuffle broke out just before the announcement of the decision. The organisers blamed it on the “men from the government and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh” trying to disturb the peace.
The mahapanchayat venue was abuzz with activity since morning with the khap leaders and their supporters trooping in for the day’s meeting.
Gopi Ram, a representative of the Balu Khap from Haryana’s Kaithal, said that it was a fight for the self-respect of not just one village or city but the entire country. He added that the khaps would gradually amplify the agitation and force the government to bow down.
Vikas, a resident of Jind, said that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s silence on the issue had dented his image.
On allegations that the agitation was politically motivated, Rakesh Kumar, another resident of Kaithal, said the present regime had employed similar tactics during the farmers’ stir and tried to divide people along the lines of caste and religion.
Wrestlers return home
Meanwhile, the protesting wrestlers, including Sakshi Malik, Vinesh Phogat and Bajrang Punia, have gone back to their native places in Haryana. Gopal Tiwari, one of the organisers of the protest at Jantar Mantar, said, “They have gone back to their homes and are waiting for the decision of the farmer and khap leaders.”
The wrestlers were evicted from the protest site in Jantar Mantar last Sunday.
“Their last resort was to immerse their medals in the Ganga river and doing an amaran anshan (indefinite hunger strike). But, now we will take forward the protest as decided by the farmer leaders,” he said.