Combative, opinionated and often defiant in the two worlds of his favourite sport and politics, Wrestling Federation of India president and six-term Lok Sabha MP Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh belongs to the diminishing tribe of BJP parliamentarians whose personal sway over followers has withstood the pull of the party and the might of its vast organisation.
Facing serious charges of sexual harassment and intimidation from some of the country’s most prominent wrestlers, the 66-year-old has stood characteristically aggressive and daring, ruling out resignation while blaming political and corporate rivals for the row.
Even the most ardent supporters of the Thakur leader won’t argue that politeness in personal conduct and following the rule book at work are his strengths. However, it is the charge of sexual harassment which has stung the most.
While a probe has been ordered after Singh agreed to “step aside” from the federation’s day-to-day affairs, apparently after being prodded by BJP bigwigs, he can be expected to do everything it takes to maintain his firm grip on the sporting body and his political fief in and around the Gonda district of Uttar Pradesh.
Associated with the Ram Janmabhoomi agitation and later an accused in the Babri demolition case, Singh became an MP for the first time in 1991.
Since then, he has tied his “shaktishali” (powerful) image with a potent mix of muscle power, deep pockets and a vast network of patronage centred around nearly 50 educational institutes he runs in his region of Uttar Pradesh to cultivate a following which swears its loyalty to him than any party or ideology.
The institutes are run in districts like Bahraich, Gonda, Balrampur, Ayodhya and Shrawasti. His huge mansion at his native place has a helipad and he has a liking for premium cars and multi-purpose vehicles.
He has represented Gonda and Balrampur in Lok Sabha in the past and has been winning from Kaiserganj since 2009.
Peeved with the BJP leadership, he had voted for the trust motion brought by the then Manmohan Singh government in 2008 and then contested and won on a Samajwadi Party ticket in 2009.
That was his only parliamentary innings outside the BJP but his respect for the late Samajwadi Party patron Mulayam Singh Yadav always remained. He was often noticed seeing Yadav off at Parliament gate.
Wrestling Federation of India president since 2012, he is informed and passionate about the sport to the extent that he can at times set aside propriety and speak his mind to referees, coaches and players during live bouts.
A video of him slapping a young wrestler in Ranchi had gone viral in 2021 after the grappler tried to plead his case with him. The athlete was considered overage and wanted Singh to help him as he trained in one of the centres operated by the WFI bossman, officials had then claimed.
If he is fierce and opinionated about the sport he loves and rules, he is no less so in politics.
A Union minister was at the receiving end of his anger last year after an appointment he sought was never given. Singh made headlines by slamming the Uttar Pradesh government headed by Yogi Adityanath, a fellow Thakur, over its handling of the floods during the last monsoon.
People were left to the mercy of the gods, he had said.
Singh single-handedly scuttled Maharashtra leader Raj Thackeray’s plan to visit the Ram temple in Ayodhya by mobilising people in his region over his association with campaigns, at times violent, against north Indian migrants in Mumbai.
This angered many in the BJP when it was seen to be warming up to Raj Thackeray to counter the Shiv Sena headed by then Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray.
Amid the row over suspended BJP spokesperson Nupur Sharma’s comments which infuriated Muslims and many Islamic countries, he called for a law against comments targeting any religion and revered religious figures.
Locals credit him with helping underprivileged students with scholarships and free studies. There have been claims that he has ensured that most students step out of educational institutes with “successful” degrees irrespective of the manner of examination.
Unsurprisingly, he has faced allegations of running a “cheating mafia”. Criminal charges, including association with members of the Dawood Ibrahim gang, have followed his rise.
Singh, whose son is a sitting MLA and wife a former MP, once faced over three dozen cases and two of them are still pending against him.
He was booked four times under the UP Gangster Act till 1993 and was once charged under the dreaded Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA). He was also arrested along with senior BJP leaders L K Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, Kalyan Singh and others after the demolition of the Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992. He was acquitted by a court in 2020.
As the Lok Sabha elections approach, the charges swirling around him are bound to cast a shadow on politics too, more so as allegations of regional and political rivalries playing a role are being thrown around thick and fast.
No one can predict the future but Singh can surely be counted on to not go down quietly.
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(This story has not been edited by News18 staff and is published from a syndicated news agency feed)