Politics to the akhada: How Brij Bhushan ruled with an iron fist

About 15 kilometers from the hustle and bustle of Karsevakapuram – the main focus of the Ram temple movement for decades – is a gleaming white mansion. There are manicured lawns surrounding this massive two-story structure, and the row of luxury cars lining the driveway is matched by a steady stream of people vying just to catch a glimpse of the owner.

For decades, Singh, 66, has used a mix of trust, crime and political clout to intimidate opponents and control a region notorious for musclemen (Sanjay Sharma)

Six-time Member of Parliament (MP) Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh has run his fiefdom for nearly three decades from this house, located in the heart of Nawabganj town, across the Saryu river. In this part of the world, where industries are sparse, jobs are scarce and law enforcement is erratic, Singh’s strongman image is a virtual writ, sufficient to resolve local disputes and move administrative processes through.

For decades, Singh, 66, has used a mix of faith, crime and political clout to intimidate opponents and control a region notorious for musclemen. But now, the senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader is facing the toughest challenge of his career from an arena away from the murky world of Uttar Pradesh politics. Singh, who is also the chief of the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI), who has been accused of sexual harassment and intimidation by India’s top wrestlers, is now booked in a First Information Report (FIR) filed by the Delhi Police and the tide of public Has been done Opinion now seems to be turning against him.

Yet, despite the growing outcry, political experts say the leader’s political future may be over, given his tenuous grip on the political machinery in a region where weak state capacity has historically led to parallel excesses ruled by strongmen. Gave way to legal structures. ,

“It is true that Singh has a considerable following in the region and his association with the Ram Mandir movement has increased his acceptability in the region that shares its borders with Ayodhya. But it is difficult to speculate about his political future,” said political expert Irshad Ilmi.

Born in Nawabganj on January 8, 1957, Singh joined akhara in his teens and went on to become a wrestler of some local repute. His career in politics began during his student life at Saket College, Ayodhya. The holy city was in turmoil during this decade as the Ram temple movement gradually picked up steam, creating a vortex of power in which young men like Singh were able to successfully project themselves as politicians.

In 1991, at the height of the Ram Mandir movement, Singh contested his first Lok Sabha election on a BJP ticket and defeated Anand Singh of the Congress by 102984 votes. That year, the BJP also won its first majority in Uttar Pradesh, forming its first government in India’s most populous state.

The next year, the Babri Masjid was demolished and Kalyan Singh’s government was dismissed. But the ensuing churn proved a boon for Singh, who publicly claimed to be one of those who helped bring down the 16th-century structure. “During the movement, I was the first person in the area to be arrested by Mulayam Singh. I was also the first person arrested by the CBI after the demolition of the disputed structure. Singh, along with senior BJP leaders LK Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi and former chief minister Kalyan Singh, was charged by the Central Bureau of Investigation in the case, but was cleared of all charges in 2020.

It was this ability to cast himself as a flamboyant Hindu leader – he was often seen with saints and leaders of the temple movement – ​​that helped him emerge from his second major legal trouble in the 1990s with relatively little damage . In 1992, he was also charged under the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA) for allegedly helping gangster Dawood Ibrahim’s associates and spent several months in Tihar Jail before being released in 1999 . t less.

During the next 15 years, Singh consolidated power and became indispensable in a political climate where electoral support was increasingly fragmented and parties struggled to win outright majorities, which meant that every seat ( And every Baahubali) was important. He sometimes used this power to challenge decisions made by the state government. The locals of Gonda still remember that he also opposed the then Chief Minister Mayawati’s attempt to rename Gonda as Loknayak Jayaprakash Narayan Nagar. He (Singh) challenged Mayawati and took out a padayatra. Even Atal Bihari Vajpayee had to intervene in the issue and asked Mayawati to withdraw her decision,” said Angad Singh, a local from Gonda. Sensing a change in the political winds, he switched from the BJP to the Samajwadi Party ahead of the 2009 general elections and won his seat. He returned to the BJP before the 2014 elections.

Wrestling was a major element of this appeal. Every event held at his alma mater at Nandini Nagar in Gonda became a major political event. He will arrive in a convoy of SUVs, which will have 20-30 followers. The officers bowed to him, touched his feet and chanted “Neta ji zindabad” as he sat down on his high chair. A stream of sweets and food would be served to the attendees as crowds of people flocked to the stage to take selfies and touch his feet. Singh would often stop matches with his hand gestures, yell at wrestlers, give advice, threaten to kick out parents, and even go after referees if he felt they Missed a move. As was the case outside the akhada, his word was the law.

“In fact, wrestling events in Gonda give him (Singh) an opportunity to meet and greet his followers, voters and fans and also help him increase his strength in the region,” Singh said. Not only the common man but the MLAs, presidents, panchayat heads of the surrounding districts ensured their presence.

It is this mix of crime and politics that helped him retain control of Gonda, and perhaps what led to his defiant stand after Pehlwans first went public with their allegations in January. Singh liked people to know that he was not afraid of anyone. In an interview given to a web portal in 2022, he also confessed to killing a person. His affidavit in 2019 listed four pending cases, including attempt to murder and causing grievous hurt to a public servant. But with the Delhi Police registering an FIR, the Supreme Court monitoring the developments in the case and the nation’s eyes trained on his next move, he may face his biggest challenge yet.

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