Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh: The Power Broker Who Also Wrestles
The secret of Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh’s clout and impunity. And why the BJP wouldn’t touch him till after the Karnataka election results
Without him, it would be very difficult to keep wrestlers under control… he is the goon that wrestling needs,” a coach was quoted as saying by news portal The Print about Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, the BJP MP accused of sexual harassment by seven women wrestlers. Singh himself told an interviewer in 2021: "These [wrestlers] are all strong men and women. To control them, you need someone stronger. Is there anyone stronger here than me?"
The 12-year president of the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) has been accused of running it like a fiefdom, with financial mismanagement and sexual misdemeanours dating back to 2012. The identities of the seven wrestlers, including a minor, cannot be revealed, by law; but the wrestlers suspect they were revealed to the MP and charge him with intimidation of their family members.
His personal website brijbhushansingh.in claims that Singh became a student leader after he opposed eve-teasing in college. It claims Singh is fond of singing and has a passion for literature, that he is a poet, that he has planted 5 lakh trees, and that he has set up 54 schools (not just in his own constituency). "People may call me mafia, but my students idolise me. Earlier I used to touch the feet of Brahmins; today young Brahmins touch my feet and call me guruji," Singh has said on record.
The protesting wrestlers, however, paint a lecherous personality. In one (leaked) statement to the police, women wrestlers accuse him of groping them on the pretext of assessing their breathing. The wrestlers have also complained that the WFI president played favourites with both wrestlers and coaches, and turned a blind eye to sexual harassment of women by others. They said they were often summoned at night. While travelling, the president parked himself on the same floor as the women, presumably to lavish "fatherly attention".
It must be said, though, that not many wrestlers have come out in support of those demanding Singh’s arrest and prosecution, with medal-winners Vinesh Phogat, Sakshi Malik and Bajrang Punia in the lead. At least one woman, Asian and Commonwealth Games medallist Divya Kakran has even come out in his support. Kakran declared in a self-made video clip in January that she had been attending camps since 2013, when she was 14, but was not aware of any sexual harassment.
Also Read: Wrestlers' Protest: The Fight of Their Lives
Media reports from 2014 claim Singh’s career highlights in the 1980s included motorcycle/scooter thefts and running liquor shops. A report in the Scroll quoted older journalists from Gonda on how Singh mobilised boys to dive for coins lying at the bottom of temple ponds. Later, he became a civil contractor.
Today his passion extends to firearms and horse riding, glitzy automobiles and helicopters (he owns two). In his affidavit before the 2019 general elections, he (and his wife) declared immovable property worth only Rs 10 crore and movable property worth Rs 4 crore. This did not include any charitable trusts.
Having won six Lok Sabha elections, five on a BJP ticket and once in 2009 as a Samajwadi Party candidate, his clout in several districts of eastern Uttar Pradesh including Ayodhya, Gonda, Kasganj and Bahraich is undeniable. His wife is a former MP and currently president of the zila panchayat. One of his two surviving sons is an MLA (his eldest committed suicide, leaving a note on Singh’s failure to be a ‘good father’). Singh conceded he was not aware of his son’s depression.
Although a 'Thakur' like Yogi Adityanath, Singh is not backed by the Uttar Pradesh chief minister, according to columnist Coomi Kapoor. Writing in The Financial Express, she points out that the MP has criticised the state government on several occasions. Others have said he answers to Union home minister Amit Shah, whose rivalry with the UP chief minister is an open secret. An outspoken man, Singh has also on occasion lashed out at yoga guru-turned-entrepreneur Ramdev and called him the ‘King of Adulteration’, threatening a nationwide agitation.
"Singh’s extraordinary clout stems from his direct links with the party high command in Delhi, which has used his services in the past to liaise with politicians from other parties. This includes SP’s Akhilesh Yadav," writes Kapoor, adding that in the 2022 Goa assembly elections, unsure of an outright BJP victory, "Amit Shah had requested Singh to fly to Goa to use his influence with three potential winning candidates who were not in the BJP but, being a part of the wrestling circuit, were friendly with him".
Indeed, the BJP seems to need Singh more than he does the party. Political observers in Uttar Pradesh believe that Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh merely 'borrows' the BJP symbol in elections but wins on his own. If the BJP takes any action against him, they say, the party can say goodbye to half a dozen Lok Sabha constituencies in 2024. They point to Akhilesh Yadav’s studied silence on the controversy to conclude Singh would be welcome to contest for the SP again.
In 1993, Singh was charged with firing at Pandit Singh, a former business partner. Pandit Singh survived—and spent 14 months in hospital. Brij Bhushan Singh claimed he was in New Delhi at the time. The court acquitted him in 2022, but mentioned that the prosecution had made no attempt to verify his alibi. Pandit Singh passed away in 2021 after contracting Covid. Curiously, he never appeared in court to record his statement, another ground for Brij Bhushan’s acquittal.
In an interview to news portal The Lallantop after his acquittal, Brij Bhushan made a sensational claim: he had indeed killed one person, in the presence of Lallu Singh, currently BJP MP from Faizabad. Pandit Singh’s brother Ravinder was stand ing next to him, he recalled, when someone shot him dead. Brij Bhushan claimed he pounced on and killed the assailant. No arrest was made.
However, Brij Bhushan was jailed in connection with another case, under the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities Act (TADA), for allegedly harbouring associates of Dawood Ibrahim. He was also arrested under the Gangster Act and had four criminal cases pending against him during the 2019 general election, per his affidavit.
Former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, he concedes, had accused him of getting the BJP candidate from Gonda killed in 2004. That was an accident, he insists, denying involvement. But the accusation created enough bitterness for him to vote against a no-confidence motion moved by the BJP, leading to his expulsion from the party. After winning a Lok Sabha seat as an SP candidate, he was back with the BJP in 2014.