That it took the arrival of farmers’ organisations on the scene of agitation by medal-winning women wrestlers against an abusive president of the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) to force the Union government into making an offer to complete the police investigation in a time-bound manner and submit the chargesheet in the court appears to be a sad reflection of the gauge used by authorities to measure the urgency of issues that affect people’s lives.
It defied the logic of even power politics when the Union government, despite being in the know of the serious charges made by the sportspersons, some of them winners of Olympics and Asian Games medals, refused to act and let the issue linger for several months. It is true the accused Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh is an impactful politician in Uttar Pradesh and has a shaky past, but the government acted as if it is dependent on the support of the member from Kaiserganj for its very survival though the NDA is sitting pretty in parliamentary arithmetic. That the allegation was of sexual abuse, and one of the victims a minor girl, did not seem to help matters.
It does not cover the government with glory that it took the intervention of the Supreme Court for the police even to register a first information report based on the complaints. The sports bodies, including the Indian Olympics Association, also exposed their utter inability to act in the interests of the sportspersons.
It is not that the government just refused to act on the complaints; it even made life difficult for the protestors, as seen in the way it treated the wrestlers while they were holding the agitation. They were made to vacate the venue of their agitation, prompting the farmer organisations to conclude that the wrestlers, many of whom have their roots in their own villages, will lose their case, and enter the fray.
Reports suggest that the BJP’s state units in Rajasthan and Haryana were upset with the government dragging its feet instead of resolving the issue. The ‘mahapanchayat’ of the farmers, which almost took over the protest, had set a June 9 deadline for the government to arrest Mr Singh which made the government sit up. The intervention of Union home minister Amit Shah and the marathon discussion sports minister Anurag Thakur held with the wrestlers reflect the seriousness the party and the government have now attached to the issue.
It is, however, not clear if the government will go the whole hog to meet its commitments to the wrestlers. There are reports that one of the complainants, the minor, has given a second statement to the magistrate under Section 164 of the Criminal Procedure Code which many fear could undermine the case under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, 2012. The government is also silent on arresting Mr Singh who still continues to be WFI president.
The government will do well to remember that the people of the country are keenly watching its actions in this case and may not take kindly to more dereliction of its duties.