Backroom parleys fail to break wrestlers’ protest

Vinayak Padmadeo

New Delhi, May 27

Late-evening parleys between the government and the protesting wrestlers failed to end the latter’s protest today. An independent Rajya Sabha MP from Haryana, Kartikeya Sharma, and a few others met wrestlers Bajrang Punia, Vinesh Phogat and Sakshi Malik and some coaches at Jantar Mantar late on Saturday night, according to sources in the wrestling community.

Sources confirmed that Sharma, a media baron who owns a TV network, requested the wrestlers to end the protest in view of the inauguration of the new parliament building by PM Narendra Modi.

His offer to the wrestlers was — end the protest and the government would consider stopping Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) president Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh’s family members from being part of the new dispensation of WFI.

However, the wrestlers insisted on the immediate arrest of Singh, who has been accused of sexually harassing female wrestlers. If that were not possible, the wrestlers said, he should at least be suspended from the parliament.

After not getting a positive response, the wrestlers put their foot down and said that the Mahila Samman Mahapanchayat would be held on Sunday, as scheduled.

“Sharma was here. He spoke to the wrestlers and he was giving assurances that no one from Singh’s family will be part of the new body (of WFI),” a source told The Tribune.

“But these were mere assurances. The least they could have agreed was about suspending him from parliament. We got the understanding that it would not be done, and that’s why we’re going ahead with tomorrow’s protest,” the source added.

Another source said that the wrestlers are being pressured by Central Government officials to not go ahead with the panchayat outside the new parliament building tomorrow.

“Please don’t name me, but pressure is coming from the Sports Ministry to not affect tomorrow’s inauguration,” said the source, who is in the know about the backchannel deliberations.

“The government is pressuring us to compromise but we women wrestlers are not ready to do this,” a teary-eyed Vinesh said. “Because whatever conditions are being put forward, they don’t include Brij Bhushan’s arrest. Tomorrow’s mahapanchayat will be held for sure,” she added.

She took potshots at the government for targeting their supporters. “Police has shut down Delhi but we still request everyone to attend the mahapanchayat. We will bear all the consequences of the police’s action, but we have to reach there,” the two-time Olympian added.

“We have not seen such days in our lives. We do not know what the future holds for us. Whether it will be good or bad, whether we will be alive or dead,” she said. “But we are fighting for wrestling’s future. But rather than giving us justice, they are resorting to other things. People who want to come and support us are being detained as if we are criminals and Brij Bhushan is God.”

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