New Delhi: “I have committed a murder in the past. Let people say what they want…I did commit a murder.”
This is not the confession of a convicted criminal, but a bold declaration made by Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, a BJP leader and six-time Lok Sabha MP who has never been tried for murder.
Though tales of the muscle power wielded by Singh, the MP from the Kaiserganj Lok Sabha seat in Bahraich district of Uttar Pradesh, are well-known, especially in Gonda and its surrounding districts, it is likely that no one knew that Singh had committed a murder until an interview he gave to a web portal in 2022. His affidavit submitted for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections did mention four criminal cases, including one under Indian Penal Code (IPC) Section 307 (attempt to murder) and other serious crimes.
Singh has also been the president of the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) since 2011, and there are allegations that he often resorts to the use of muscle power in running the federation. As a result of his tyrannical attitude, Olympic-level wrestlers were forced to hold a protest against him, staging a dharna at Delhi’s Jantar Mantar from January 18.
The protestors made serious allegations against Singh, including sexual harassment of women wrestlers, physical abuse, dictatorial functioning and financial irregularities in the management of WFI. The players called off the protest after a late-night meeting with sports minister Anurag Thakur on January 20, in which they were given an assurance that Singh would be relieved of his duties as WFI president and an inquiry committee would be set up.
Now, saying that they have lost faith in the committee, the wrestlers are back on protest. They have filed a police complaint against Singh, which also includes allegations of sexual assault on a minor. However, the police are yet to register an FIR – and the protesting wrestlers have said they will not leave Jantar Mantar until an FIR is filed. They have even approached the Supreme Court on the matter.
Meanwhile, regarding the allegations levelled against him, Singh claimed that he would hang himself if the charges were found to be true. He refused to resign from his post as president, calling the allegations politically motivated and terming it a Congress-sponsored protest. He even warned that if he opened his mouth, it would bring a ‘tsunami’. He compared the wrestlers’ protest with the Shaheen Bagh protest and added that a few players whose careers are over are levelling allegations against him.
However, Singh, who calls the protesting sportspersons as pawns of the Congress, does not have a slate as clean as he pretends. While he himself proclaimed on camera that he has committed a murder, on another occasion he reportedly confessed that former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had held him responsible for “another murder”.
The many crimes of Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh
Ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, Scroll had quoted senior journalists from Gonda district as saying that Singh’s involvement in crime in the 1980s ranged from motorcycle/bike theft to running liquor shops. He even used to get boys to hunt for coins lying at the bottom of temple ponds. Soon he became a civil contractor. Vinod Kumar Singh alias Pandit Singh, a former minister in the Samajwadi Party cabinet in UP, was his associate in all these activities.
Later, Brij Bhushan and Pandit Singh turned from friends to foes and in 1993 Brij Bhushan was charged under IPC sections 307 (attempt to murder), 147 (spreading nuisance), 148 (possessing deadly weapon) and 149 (offence committed by every member of an unlawful assembly with common object) for shooting at Pandit Singh. Pandit Singh had claimed in an interview to Scroll that 20 bullets were fired at him and he was hospitalised for 14 months.
In the case which lasted for 29 years, Brij Bhushan was acquitted in December last year due to the lack of evidence. However, the court pulled up the investigators, saying that during the investigation no effort was made to collect evidence and even the weapon used in the crime could not be recovered.
In his defence, Brij Bhushan had argued that he was in Delhi at the time of the attack. In response, the judge said that no effort was made by the investigators to verify this claim, which makes the entire investigation questionable.
Pandit Singh, the victim in the case, died in May 2021 after contracting COVID-19 about a year and a half before the verdict. One of the reasons for Brij Bhushan’s acquittal in this case was that Pandit Singh did not appear to record a statement against him. When asked why in an interview in 2014, the latter replied, “If I decide to testify against Brij Bhushan in the 1993 firing case, I can get him behind bars. But I have restrained myself from doing so because I want to keep him alive. It is fun to fight with a strong person. You stay alert and don’t make mistakes.”
‘… I did commit a murder’
Pandit Singh had a brother, Ravinder Singh, who was a very close friend of Brij Bhushan’s. Both of them were contractors and used to work together. Once they had gone to hold a panchayat meeting where shots were fired in the air and one bullet hit Ravinder while he was standing next to Brij Bhushan. It enraged Bhushan so much that he snatched the rifle from the hands of the person who had fired the shot and shot him. The person died on the spot.
This incident was narrated by Brij Bhushan himself in an interview to the online portal Lallantop. In the interview, he said, “I have committed a murder in the past. Whatever people may say, I did commit a murder. I immediately shot and killed the person who had shot Ravinder dead.”
He further said in the interview that Lallu Singh, who is currently the BJP MP from the Faizabad Lok Sabha seat in Ayodhya district, is a witness to the incident.
He added that some time after the incident, he was sent to jail under the Gangster Act by veteran leader and former minister of Gonda, Kunwar Anand Singh.
Former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had also suspected Bhushan of committing another murder, the latter confessed. After the death of the BJP candidate of Gonda Lok Sabha seat, the former prime minister had said, “(You) got him killed.”
Brij Bhushan is a six-time MP, winning five times on a BJP ticket and once (in 2009) on an SP ticket. He won the first two elections in 1991 and 1999 from the Gonda Lok Sabha seat. In the 2004 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP gave him a ticket from Balrampur and nominated Ghanshyam Shukla from Gonda. Shukla died in a road accident on the day of polling.
Recalling it in a conversation with Scroll, Brij Bhushan said, “My opponents spread rumours that it was not an accident but a murder. Atal ji called me and said,‘Marwa diya (You got him killed).’”
Brij Bhushan added that this led to his differences with the BJP. As a result, he made headlines by cross-voting against his own party in a crucial confidence motion by the opposition against the then United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government in 2008. The BJP expelled him, but the SP opened its doors for him.
He was elected MP from Kaiserganj Lok Sabha seat in 2009 on an SP ticket. In 2014, he rejoined the BJP and again became an MP from Kaiserganj, repeating his victory in 2019 as well.
It is noteworthy that he remained in the BJP even after the then prime minister had expressed his suspicion of that Bhushan had murdered a BJP candidate. The BJP expelled him only after his cross-vote.
However, Brij Bhushan’s political clout remained unaffected. Despite his confession of having committed a murder and being accused of another murder by the then PM, both the BJP and the opposition SP embraced him and covered up his crimes as he continued to get tickets and win election after election. For more than a decade, he has been the president of a national sports association.
According to the Indian Express, he likes to be referred to as ‘powerful’ and believes that he doesn’t need the BJP as much as the BJP needs him. In his home district of Gonda in Uttar Pradesh and at least half a dozen adjoining districts, he wields a lot of influence.
A local BJP leader from Gonda told the newspaper, “Brij Bhushan only borrows the party symbol, he doesn’t need it to win the election. He wins them on his own.”
He has more than 50 educational institutions running in Bahraich, Gonda, Balrampur, Ayodhya and Shravasti districts of UP which is also a source of his political domination in the region, something he admits.
He said, “I did not establish them (college) with any political motive, but today boys rally around me. People may call me mafia, but my students idolise me. Earlier I used to touch the feet of Brahmins, today young Brahmins touch my feet calling me Guruji.”
This is the reason why Brij Bhushan, who maintains a stature bigger than the party in the region, challenges his own party and its decisions with hardly any adverse consequences.
In October last year, while targeting the BJP government in UP, he said that he had never seen such poor management of floods and that people are at God’s mercy. On a question asked regarding chief minister Adityanath, he said, “Don’t make me say anything.”
In addition, he even praised SP leader Azam Khan, the biggest thorn in the BJP’s side in UP, by calling him a ‘leader of the people’.
In June last year, when Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) chief Raj Thackeray expressed his desire to visit Ayodhya, Brij Bhushan went against the party line and opposed Thackeray’s visit at a time when the BJP was considering MNS as an ally during a tumultuous phase of Maharashtrian politics.
“I will not allow Raj Thackeray, who insulted North Indians, to enter Ayodhya until he apologises to all North Indians with folded hands,” he claimed. “I request chief minister Yogi Adityanath to not meet him. The RSS, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the common man played a role in the Ram Mandir movement. The Thackeray family has nothing to do with it.”
He also launched a tirade against yoga guru and businessman Ramdev, accusing his company Patanjali of selling spurious ghee and warned him of a nationwide agitation against Patanjali’s products, terming him the ‘king of adulteration‘. He also called upon the Sant community to stand against Ramdev and appealed to the Centre as well as the UP and Uttarakhand governments to take action against the latter.
Brij Bhushan Singh’s image of a staunch Hindutva leader also corresponds with the political ideology of the BJP. His controversial remarks, for instance, about the ancestors of AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi, calling them Hindu, only help the BJP’s cause. This is perhaps why his defiance against the party is largely ignored by the top brass.
Brij Bhushan’s long tryst with controversies
Brij Bhushan joined the BJP in the late 1990s having studied law at the Awadh University. It was the era of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement and he caught the BJP’s eye because of his good standing in the areas around Ayodhya. Today, his wife Ketki Devi Singh is the Gonda District Panchayat President while his son Prateek Bhushan Singh is the MLA from Gonda Sadar seat.
Brij Bhushan was one of the prominent faces of the Ram Mandir movement and was also arrested along with senior BJP leader L.K. Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi and former chief minister Kalyan Singh in the Babri demolition case in which he was the main accused. In 2020, the court acquitted all the accused including Brij Bhushan.
In an attempt to cash in on his image as a staunch Hindutva leader, he boasts, “During the movement, I was the first person from the area to be arrested by Mulayam Singh. I was also the first person arrested by the CBI after the controversial structure was demolished.”
In the mid-1990s, his relationship with the underworld also came to the fore. He spent several months in Tihar Jail on charges of harbouring members of the Dawood Ibrahim gang. A case was registered against him under the Terrorist and Divisive Activities Prevention Act (TADA). He was later acquitted due to the lack of evidence.
While he was in jail, his wife contested on the BJP ticket from Gonda Lok Sabha seat and won.
In 2004, Brij Bhushan’s 22-year-old son Shakti Singh died by suicide, leaving a suicide note in which he blamed his father Brij Bhushan for the act. “You could not prove to be a good father. You did not take care of my siblings and me. You always thought about yourself and did not care about us. We see our future in darkness. That’s why there is no point in living now,” the note read.
Tyrannical attitude as wrestling federation head
In managing the WFI, Brij Bhushan has often been accused of being a self-centred narcissist, which is also reflected in his remarks. For instance, he reportedly said in an interview to the Indian Express in 2021, “They (wrestlers) are strong boys and girls. You need someone strong to control them. Is there anyone stronger than me here?”
The report stated how his is the final word in every matter related to wrestling in the federation. He keeps an eye on every minor and major wrestling tournament and often gives instructions to the referee and even punishes the judges.
Referring to a few standout anecdotes about his dictatorial attitude, the report said that he suspended a railway coach during a national championship in Noida in January 2021. He asked the referee to penalise a wrestler from Delhi because the wrestler’s supporters had entered the playing arena. The referee said there was no such rule but Singh insisted upon it.
If he is unable to be physically present at a tournament, he monitors it from home by getting cameras installed everywhere at the venue, something he himself admitted.
The report further added that the wrestlers are well aware of Brij Bhushan’s attitude. Therefore, when they lose in a controversial match, instead of going to the judge, they appeal directly to him.
Meanwhile, scenes of wrestlers bowing before Brij Bhushan and seeking blessings from him are also common during the matches of the national championship in Indian wrestling.
His influence is such that he recently lashed out at the Union government’s ‘Target Olympic Podium (TOP)’ scheme for the preparation of athletes for Olympics, and asked the government not to directly approach the athletes under this scheme.
Meanwhile, after the Tokyo Olympics last year, he had said that the federation would keep an eye on private, non-profit organisations supporting wrestlers.
Speaking to The Print, a former Sports Authority of India coach said, “Brij Bhushan is the goon that wrestling needs. Without him, it would be very difficult to discipline or keep wrestlers under control.”
His hooliganism was witnessed in 2021 during a junior level wrestling tournament in Ranchi, when he started hitting a wrestler on stage.
Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, the president of the #Wrestling Federation of India, slapped a wrestler from UP on the stage during the first round of the Under-15 National Wrestling Championship.https://t.co/N20EX0fXaX
— The Quint (@TheQuint) December 17, 2021
Dronacharya awardee Mahavir Phogat had also told the media in detail about Singh’s attitude in running the federation and claimed that apart from interfering with the diet of the wrestlers, he also takes half of the sponsorship money they receive.
Translated from Hindi by Naushin Rehman. Read the Hindi original here.