The top leadership of the BJP on Friday appeared concerned that the charges of sexual misconduct against party MP Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, who heads the wrestling federation, could cause "considerable damage" to the image of the Narendra Modi government.
The BJP leaders had so far maintained that the protest by the wrestlers against Singh was "politically motivated" and decided "not to give in" to pressure despite any political fallout, insiders said.
However, on Friday as the contents of the FIR lodged by multiple women wrestlers against Singh were revealed, sections in the party indicated that shielding the strongman MP could become untenable.
Party insiders said the leadership on Friday asked Singh to stop giving statements to the media and also call off his proposed rally in Ayodhya on June 5 that was meant to be a show of strength.
"The top leadership was convinced of a political design behind wrestlers of one particular state (Haryana) gunning for Brij Bhushan and had decided not to succumb," a BJP leader said. "Now, however, backing him could be difficult." The leader claimed that the party seniors had been of the opinion that the allegations against Singh were mostly baseless and exaggerated.
Officially, however, the BJP continued to maintain silence even after the FIR became public, with leaders repeating the standard line: "The investigation is going on and the law will take its course."
Jat farm leaders supporting the wrestlers has been of particular concern for the BJP. The memory of none less than Prime Minister Modi giving in to the protracted farmers' protest to withdraw the three new farm laws is still fresh.
After two rounds of meetings, the farm leaders on Friday asked the government to arrest Singh or face protests. The farm leaders have decided to join hands with the wrestlers and hold protests in Delhi if the government fails to take note of the serious charges against the wrestling federation chief and arrest him.
Some leaders said that after firmly backing Singh, if the government now succumbs, "it would be seen as surrender".
"Narendra Modi's government doesn't want to be seen as a weak government," a senior BJP leader said, indicating that the leadership could work on other ways to defuse the situation without directly giving in.
Internally, sections of Haryana BJP leaders have communicated to the central leadership that the wrestlers' protest is causing serious political damage to the party and warned of electoral consequences when polls are held in the state next year.
"We were told not to speak in public and that the leadership was dealing with the issue," a Haryana leader said.
Despite the dominance of the central leadership, a BJP MP from Maharashtra, Pritam Munde, broke ranks and backed the protesting wrestlers.
"Whenever a woman makes a complaint as serious as this, it should be taken into consideration and investigated," Pritam, daughter of the late Gopinath Munde, a powerful OBC leader of Maharashtra, said.