Wrestlers warn against using their platform for politics; defiant WFI chief says ready for probe but won't resign
New Delhi/Gonda (UP) | The protesting wrestlers on Saturday warned against using their platform for political gains claiming few people are trying to take their fight for justice to a different direction even as a defiant WFI chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh said he is ready to face "any kind" of probe but won't resign from his post.
The wrestlers' statement came on a day many politicians including Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal met them at their protest site - Jantar Mantar in Delhi.
Extending support, Kejriwal said that those who commit wrongs against women "should be hanged", while the Congress demanded Singh's arrest and his ouster as president of Wrestling Federation of India (WFI).
On Friday, Delhi Police registered two FIRs against Singh on allegations of sexual harassment levelled by seven women wrestlers. While the first FIR pertained to allegations of a minor wrestler and was registered under the POCSO Act, the second was related to outraging modesty.
Addressing reporters at his residence in Bishnoharpur, about 40 km from Gonda city in Uttar Pradesh, Singh said, "I am completely innocent and have full faith in the Supreme Court and Delhi Police. I am ready to face any kind of investigation." He also said "resigning as president of Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) is not a big deal for me, but I will not resign as a criminal." At Jantar Mantar, Tokyo Olympics bronze medallist Bajrang Punia, who is one of the protesters, said they won't let anyone use their platform for political gains.
"A few people are trying to take our movement to a different direction and we strongly refute it. This is a fight for justice for India's daughters," he said, but did not mention whom he was referring to.
A group of people was heard raising slogans against Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
"A lot of people have entered the protest site and trying to project it as a 'bhadkau andolan' but this is fight to save Indian wrestling. People who are here (assembled) are in our support but not for any political gains," said Bajrang.
"Politics and other things are secondary, the dignity and honour of women is first, so please don't indulge in politics. This is players' movement, so do not link to any political party," he added.
Vinesh Phogat also sought to placate the people in position of power.
"All those, who hold constitutional posts (I want to say), that the common man also deserves respect. We respect all, we will not say anything that goes against their honour, but we should also be respected," she told reporters.
At Gonda, Singh took a strong exception to Vadra's meeting with the wrestlers saying, "Today it has been seen who is behind this controversy. I have been saying from the beginning that an industrialist and the Congress have a hand in this. They are upset with me." He, however, did not elaborate.
In the past couple of days Congress party's Bhupinder Singh Hooda, Rashtriya Lok Dal leader Jayant Chaudhary, former Jammu and Kahsmir Governor Satya Pal Malik, Delhi government ministers Atishi Singh and Suarbah Bhardwaj among others have visited the protest site to extend their support to the athletes.
"I'm not a criminal. Resigning means I have accepted their allegations," Singh said.
He also questioned why the wrestlers are still sitting on dharna even after FIR was lodged.
The wrestlers had asserted they won't leave the protest site until Singh is arrested.
Singh claimed this is not a protest of sportspersons but of the "conspirators". "They did not wait for the investigation report to be made public and went to the Supreme Court and there raised a new allegation. They are saying that the sport has to be saved but they are not saving the game (by doing this). They have caused a huge loss in the last four months," he said.
Punia also claimed they were being harassed by Delhi Police.
"Last night, they cut our power supply, did not let us bring food and water and even mattresses and takhtas (wooden cots). Even one of the workers, who brought these things to the protest site, has not reached home. The police is not treating the athletes well.
"Is this the honour of the country's athletes? What's the point of winning those medals if we had to face all these?" he asked.
Priyanka, who reached Jantar Mantar in the morning and interacted with the wrestlers, and accused the government of "protecting" Singh. She also called for his ouster from the post so that he is not able to "exert pressure" on the wrestlers and hamper their careers.
Her party demanded that Singh should be arrested immediately and removed from all posts to help ensure a fair investigation.
"Very serious allegations have been levelled against a BJP MP, who claims himself as a 'Bahubali' and on whom more than 40 cases are going on. When such serious charges are made against an MP of the ruling party, in such a situation we demand that Delhi Police should arrest this person immediately so that fair investigation can take place," party MP Deepender Hooda said.
Attacking Indian Olympic Association chief P T Usha, Hooda said one had huge expectations from her who had been a sports icon.
"But her statements against the players that what they were doing is wrong. Usha should do some introspection on whether she should continue to occupy the position she holds, at a time when she should have stood by the players. IOA chief is not a political post, but she did not stand with the players and she disappointed the country and now she should introspect," he said.
During his visit, Kejriwal said every Indian who loves the country should stand with the wrestlers in their struggle.
Extending his support, he said those who commit such wrongs against women "should be hanged".
"All these women players who have brought laurels to the country are our daughters, they must get justice. No matter how powerful the accused is, he should be given the harshest punishment," he later said in a tweet in Hindi.
Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, who is appearing for the wrestlers in the Supreme Court, in a tweet said, "Wrestler Protest: Electricity and Water cut off but they will wrestle and succeed. While the accused has no conscience to wrestle with!"