A meeting of 30 khaps in Muzaffarnagar on Thursday expressed support for the protesting wrestlers and accused the Narendra Modi government of “protecting” BJP parliamentarian and Wrestling Federation of India chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, accused of sexually harassing women grapplers.
Similar Mahapanchayats will be held in the Haryana towns of Kurukshetra and Sonipat on Friday and Sunday, respectively, to pile pressure on the government to arrest Singh, leaders who attended the meeting said.
“The Modi government is defending the accused (Singh). The Mahapanchayat was called today to discuss how to get justice for our wrestlers,” Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) president Naresh Tikait, who had called the meeting, told The Telegraph over the phone.
“Our representatives will soon meet the President and the government. More decisions will be taken and a resolution passed at Kurukshetra on Friday after taking into account the views of all the khap leaders from several states,” Tikait, who had on Tuesday set the Centre a five-day deadline to arrest Singh, added.
Over 5,000 leaders and members of 30 khaps from Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh attended Thursday’s Mahapanchayat.
Sarv Khap (an umbrella body of khaps) secretary Subhash Balyan said: “There are around 365 khaps in the country and we are in touch with all of them. All khaps have announced their solidarity with the protesting wrestlers.”
The Mahapanchayat came on a day farmers — under the banner of the Samyukta Kisan Morcha that spearheaded the successful, yearlong agitation against three farm laws in 2020-21 — held demonstrations across Punjab and Haryana seeking Singh’s arrest. The Morcha had announced nationwide protests on June 1 and June 5 on the issue.
Speaking at the Soram Mahapanchayat, Tikait, head of the Balyan khap, assured the government that the protest would be withdrawn if Singh was arrested.
He said he was speaking on behalf of the wrestlers, who were too shocked to attend public meetings or speak to the media.
Sources said the wrestlers were staying at Tikait’s home in Muzaffarnagar. They added that Tikait, who had dissuaded the wrestlers from throwing their medals into the Ganga in Haridwar on Tuesday evening, had brought them to his) home with the promise that the powerful khaps would take up their cause.
Tikait claimed at Soram that the panchayat members had recently held meetings with Sanjeev Balyan, Union minister of state for animal husbandry, dairying and fisheries, and Satya Pal Singh, Union minister of state for human resources.
“They all support the wrestlers’ demand. We know the Delhi police are not doing their job because the Centre is supporting the tormentor of our wrestler daughters,” Tikait told the Mahapanchayat.
Neither Balyan nor Satya Pal had denied or confirmed Tikait’s claim till Thursday evening.
The farmers agitating under the SKM banner submitted memorandums to deputy commissioners and sub-divisional magistrates, demanding Singh’s arrest.
The Morcha said it had also submitted a memorandum to President Droupadi Murmu’s office, urging her to direct the Centre to allow the wrestlers to resume their sit-in at Jantar Mantar from where Delhi police had dragged them away on Sunday. The police have since banned assemblies at the site.
The memorandum made two other demands: action against the police officers “who treated the women wrestlers so brutally” and Singh’s arrest.
Over 30 farmer bodies, including the BKU (Lakhowal), BKU (Ekta Ugrahan), All India Kisan Sabha (Punjab), Krantikari Kisan Union, Kirti Kisan Union, Jamhuri Kisan Sabha and Punjab Kisan Union participated in the protests.
Demonstrations were held at 16 places in Punjab and Haryana, including Sangrur, Patiala, Mansa, Barnala, Moga, Fazilka, Ferozepur, Ludhiana and Tarn Taran.
Surendra Solanki, a Jat leader who proposed Friday’s Kurukshetra Mahapanchayat, said: “The panchayats in support of the wrestlers will continue till they grow into a national movement.”
Rakesh Tikait, BKU spokesperson, said the khaps were ready for a long battle and referred to how the farmers had agitated for over a year to force the Centre to scrap three farm laws.
Feru Singh, 75, a member of the Balyan khap, reminded reporters of the many successful agitations that the late BKU founder, Mahendra Singh Tikait, had launched from Soram, his ancestral village. Naresh and Rakesh are Mahendra’s sons.