Wrestlers hit back at WFI chief; Delhi police provides security to complainants

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Wrestlers Bajrang Punia, Vinesh Phogat and Sakshi Malik address the media | ANI

New Delhi: A week after they resumed their stir here, wrestlers on Sunday dismissed allegations that they were vying to take control over the Wrestling Federation of India even as its chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh accused Congress leader Deepender Hooda and wrestler Bajrang Punia of hatching a conspiracy against him.

Following a Supreme Court direction, the Delhi Police on Sunday provided security to the female wrestlers including a minor who filed complaints of sexual harassment against Singh and the complainants have been asked to record their statements soon so that further investigation in the case can be carried out, officials said.

Booked for alleged sexual exploitation of women wrestlers, Singh, who has vowed to fight the charges, alleged that the opposition parties were "tutoring" the players and also praised former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Akhilesh Yadav for not associating himself with the protest, saying the Samajwadi Party chief was "standing with the truth".

The protesting wrestlers, who first levelled allegations of sexual harassment against Singh in January, had resumed their sit-in last Sunday to demand that the findings of the Centre-appointed panel that probed the charges be made public.

The Delhi Police had on Fridays filed two FIRs, including one under the POCSO Act, against the BJP MP, who has completed 12 years as WFI President and is ineligible to become an office bearer.

The WFI president claimed that the wrestlers want to take over the WFI and that only one family, the Phogats, is behind the protest. Wrestler Bajrang Punia countered the charge

"If you have to be in WFI, then you have to be a member of a state association. We don't want control of WFI.

"His son is the president of the UP Association, and the secretary is his son's brother-in-law. His son-in-law is also a member of a state association. He is accusing us of 'parivaarwad' (nepotism) while it is happening in his case," he claimed.

However, speaking to reporters on Sunday at his residence in Bishnoharpur in Uttar Pradesh, Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh targeted Punia.

“This whole conspiracy was hatched by Congress leader Deepender Hooda and wrestler Bajrang Punia. We have an audio to prove this that will be handed over to the Delhi Police when the time comes," he claimed.

During an interaction with media at the protest site at Jantar Mantar, the wrestlers asserted that they were prepared for a long fight.

To a query about their preparations being affected for the Asia Games later this year, Punia said, "We train whenever we get time... but getting justice for India's daughters will be a bigger medal for me".

"We have full faith in the Supreme Court... we are ready for the long haul," he said.

Asked if they will end their protest if Singh is arrested, he said, "If he is arrested, we will discuss it with our Khap leaders.. others who are with us and act according to what is decided by them on the agitation."

The wrestlers also urged the media not to give Singh a platform to speak till he is cleared by the courts.

"The media is supporting Brij Bhushan more than the players. You see his criminal records. Does any player sitting here or players from other sports have a criminal record?" Punia told reporters.

"The players win medals for the country, and he is questioning the medal winners. How many people become MPs in this country, and how many people win Olympic medals. To date, there are hardly 40 Olympic medallists, and thousands have become MPs," he said.

Double World Championship medallist Vinesh Phogat said Singh's charge that they are involved in politics is baseless.

"We are not involved in any politics. We speak straight from the heart and it connects, and that is why so many people are sitting here in our support."

"I ask how can you give such a criminal a platform? Ask yourself.... That man is still saying things with a smile on his face. His ego is bigger than the Ravana (in epic Ramayana)," she said

"If he comes out clean in Supreme Courts order, you guys can garland him.... He has exploited women athletes, and he is being felicitated. I request that you do not give him that platform," she said.

The wrestlers have complained of non-cooperation from authorities whom they have accused of cutting power and water supply during the night.

Various political parties, including the Congress, the Left, the Trinamool Congress and AAP, have lent their support to the protesting wrestlers.

Indian National Lok Dal leader Abhay Chautala and JD(U) leader KC Tyagi met the protesters on Sunday. Bhim Army chief Chandra Shekhar Azad also joined the wrestlers at the protest site.

A day after Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra along with Deepender Hooda met the wrestlers, her husband and businessman Robert Vadra also reached the protest site at Jantar Mantar in Delhi.

"I am supporting the athletes. The entire family is with them. Till they get justice, we will definitely support them," Robert Vadra.

Rajya Sabha MP and senior lawyer Kapil Sibal, who is representing the wrestlers in the Supreme Court, said they are facing the predicament of a defiant accused and "no arrests", and wondered whether there is a "pliant investigation" into the matter.

In a tweet, he said: "Protesting Wrestlers Predicament: A minor, 6 others traumatised, a defiant accused, a silent PMO, no arrests. A pliant investigation?"

The WFI chief, however, alleged that the players were not speaking their mind and were being tutored by political parties.

"This fight is no longer in the hands of players. Political parties have entered... All these players have become toys of the Congress and other opposition parties. Their motive is political, not my resignation," he said, adding that he is yet to receive a copy of the FIR registered against him.

"If they (protesters) will go back (to their home) and sleep peacefully after my resignation, I am ready to resign," he said.

Talking to PTI, the WFI president said on Sunday, "I want to thank the leader of Samajwadi party, Akhilesh Yadav, (for not siding with the protesting wrestlers). I know him since his childhood. I am elder to him. Though there are political differences between us, Akhilesh knows the truth".

The BJP MP from Kaiserganj also claimed that players associated with railways were sitting at the protest site in Delhi's Jantar Mantar, and wondered why the railway board was not stopping them.

"It is their right to protest, but can a player associated with the railways sit on a protest like this where objectionable slogans are being raised against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath," he said.

In response to a question, the BJP MP said his party should not be dragged into the issue.

"Don't drag the party (BJP) into this episode. These allegations are levelled against me as the president of the Wrestling Federation of India, not as a BJP MP. I have to prove myself innocent.... So don't take this fight on the BJP. If the party asks me to resign, I will do so immediately," he said.

Asked about Priyanka Gandhi's participation in the protest, Singh claimed, "She does not know the facts. Deepender Hooda, the architect of this conspiracy, brought her to the protest site.

"The day Priyanka comes to know the truth, or the day report of the investigation will be out, she will realise that she should not have gone to the protest site."

The protesting wrestlers had on Saturday warned against using their platform for political gains claiming few people were trying to take their fight for justice to a different direction.

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, Rashtriya Lok Dal leader Jayant Chaudhary, former Jammu and Kashmir governor Satya Pal Malik, Delhi government ministers Atishi Singh and Saurbah Bhardwaj have visited the protest site to extend their support to the athletes in the last few days. PTI

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