New Delhi: BJP MP from Kaiserganj Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh’s ‘crime-o-meter’ on MyNeta.info is in red. He has admitted to a murder on video and described himself as a “shaktishaali” (powerful wrestler) in the past.
Speaking to ThePrint, some referred to him a ‘bahubali’ (strong-armed), and ‘gundo ka gunda’ (gangster of gangsters).
Up until yesterday, the President of the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI), Singh was known as a true reformer and strongman for the sport in the country.
Now, ace wrestlers — including Olympic medalists Bajrang Punia and Sakshi Malik — have branded him a ‘predator’ and accused him of ‘sexual assault’ and aiding sexual harassment of female wrestlers.
A history sheeter
Singh is not new to controversy. He was arrested in the mid-1990s under Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA) for allegedly helping associates of gangster Dawood Ibrahim and spent several months in Tihar jail.
According to his election affidavit, he has four pending cases against him. Charges against him include causing voluntary harm to public servant (section 332 of the Indian Penal Code, or IPC), robbery (section 392), attempt to murder (section 307) and illegal payments in connection with an election (section 171 H).
In 2004, after shifting to Balrampur, Singh was replaced by Ghanshyam Shukla by the BJP as the party’s candidate from Gonda. Shukla was killed in a road accident which, some alleged, was actually “murder”. In an interview to Scroll.in, he said Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had called and said “Marwaa diyaa (you had him killed)”.
A six-time MP from Gonda, Kaiserganj and Balrampur constituencies in Uttar Pradesh, Singh is currently serving as MP from Kaiserganj.
In his younger days he was reportedly a motorcycle thief, and even part of a liquor mafia in the 1980s.
He was also involved in a gunfight in 1993 and was acquitted by a local Gonda court in December last year in the case. He had been accused of attempting to murder Vinod Kumar Singh, also known as Pandit Singh, a former minister who was once friends with Singh.
A law graduate, Singh did his LLB from Dr RML Avadh University, Faizabad, in 1985 and currently his entire family is involved in politics. His wife Ketki Devi Singh is the president of Gonda Zila Panchayat and his son, Prateek Bhushan Singh, is an MLA from Gonda Sadar seat.
In 2004, Brij Bhushan’s 22-year-old son Shakti Singh had allegedly shot himself at their ancestral home in Nawabganj. In a note found, he had reportedly blamed his father for being selfish and never looking after him or his siblings: “You were never a good father. You never cared for your children, and only ever cared about yourself. Our future looks dark. There’s no reason why I should stay alive.”
The netaji of wrestling
Members of India’s wrestling fraternity say Singh is not only a “mafia don” but the “don of all mafia dons” in Uttar Pradesh.
“I hate mafias. I make videos against gangster culture regularly. But Sharan Singh has been the gunda that wrestling needs. Without him, it would be very difficult to discipline wrestlers or keep them in line,” former Sports Authority of India coach Ajit Singh told ThePrint over the phone. “What he has done for wrestling is unparalleled,” he added.
Singh was a wrestler during his school days and, since early days of his politics, has been championing the cause of the sport in Uttar Pradesh, once the mecca of the sport in the country. Singh’s grip over the sport in India comes mainly from his efforts to organise dangals (bouts) in the area using generous sums of money.
“Netaji has organised junior and national championships under his watch multiple times. Before mat wrestling came into vogue, he used to organise dangals at his own expense,” said Amar Kishore Kashyap, BJP president of Gonda district.
A profile in The Indian Express notes how Brij Bhushan used to actively participate in local tournaments, suspending referees and reigning supreme as the ultimate judge. According to the report, he still runs the show at dangals and had even suspended a railways coach for being “too animated” on the sidelines in 2022.
Players reportedly used to touch his feet and seek blessings before playing bouts at national championships.
Somvir Rathee, a wrestler who has joined the protests against Singh, however thinks the politician is out there to harm wrestling more than he is there for love of the game. “Anyone who even enters the akhada once in their life starts calling himself a pehelwaan. He knows nothing about the sport,” Rathee told ThePrint.
The young wrestler says that not only has Singh exercised control over the WFI as president of the body for almost a decade and a half — elected unopposed — he also controls other federations via his family. “Bihar wrestling federation is headed by his son-in-law, while his son controls the Uttar Pradesh federation,” alleged Rathee.
ThePrint couldn’t independently confirm these claims.
Rathee also said that Singh tends to “swear a lot” and is often rude. Singh’s short temper and lack of respect for players can be seen in a video clip of him slapping a wrestler going viral.
“His actions have made wrestlers indulge in politics. Should we play rajneeti–rajneeti (politics) or wrestle?” asked Rathee.
(Edited by Zinnia Ray Chaudhuri)