The country’s top wrestlers on Wednesday said their “protest was not over yet” and they had only agreed to halt it for a week after the Centre promised that Delhi police would complete the probe into the sexual harassment charges against Wrestling Federation of India chief and BJP parliamentarian Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh by June 15.
After a six-hour meeting with sports minister Anurag Thakur, who had reached out to the protesting wrestlers, the sportspersons said the government had also assured them that the FIR filed against them would be withdrawn.
The wrestlers have been demanding the immediate arrest of Singh.
The government’s outreach is being seen as an urgent move because the top political leadership is worried about another agitation by farmers, who have declared their support for the wrestlers.
The government and the BJP are apprehensive that if the protests by the farmers, especially Jats, intensify, it would cost them electorally in Rajasthan where Assembly polls are scheduled later this year.
The Jat community dominates the country’s wrestling field. Most of the protesting wrestlers are from Haryana.
Sources said the government also wanted to resolve the issue before Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the US from June 21 because the protest has received bad press internationally.
Wednesday’s meeting was attended by Olympic medallists Bajrang Punia and Sakshi Malik. Two other wrestlers — Malik’s husband Satyawart Kadiyan and Jitender Kinha — were also present. World Championship medallist Vinesh Phogat, a prominent face of the protest, skipped the meeting as she had to attend a khap panchayat in her Balali village in Haryana.
“We have been assured that the police investigation will be complete by June 15. Till then, we have been asked to wait and suspend the protest,” Malik told reporters after the meeting.
“Delhi police will also withdraw the FIRs filed against the wrestlers on May 28,” Malik added. Both Malik and Punia, who reiterated their demand for the immediate arrest of Singh during the meeting, asserted that their agitation was not over and they had only suspended it till June 15 as requested by the government.
Delhi police, who report to the Union home ministry, had accused the wrestlers of rioting and other offences in an FIR after dragging them away and detaining them from their Jantar Mantar protest site on May 28 when Prime Minister Narendra Modi was inaugurating the new Parliament building.
Punia said on Wednesday: “We will go and talk to farm and khap leaders and will brief them about the outcome of today’s meeting with the sports minister. Our protest is not over and we have suspended it only till June 15 considering the government’s assurance. If no action is taken by June 15, we will resume our protest.”
Farm leaders from Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh, both dominated by the Jat community, have been rallying behind the wrestlers and have organised several khap panchayats over the past week.
Sports minister Thakur told reporters: “I had a long six-hour discussion with the wrestlers. We have assured them that the probe will be completed by June 15 and chargesheets will be submitted. The election of the WFI (chief) will be done by June 30.” After Tuesday midnight, Thakur had taken to Twitter to invite the wrestlers to a meeting. “The government is willing to have a discussion with the wrestlers on their issues. I have once again invited the wrestlers for the same,” he said.
Farmers’ outfit Samyukta Kisan Morcha on Wednesday said it would continue to extend support to the protesting wrestlers and demanded Singh’s immediate arrest. “The SKM shall continue to extend support to the protesters and once again condemns the Union government for shielding the perpetrator of crimes against women. The SKM demands that Brij Bhushan be arrested immediately,” the Morcha said in a statement.