Who Are the ‘Saints’ of Ayodhya Defending Brij Bhushan Singh?

A group of 'saints' from Ayodhya have come out in support of the BJP MP, who is facing allegations of sexual harassment by wrestlers. They have called the POCSO Act 'faulty', and have demanded to amend provisions of the Act.

Bharatiya Janata Party MP and Wrestling Federation of India chief, Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, who was recently accused of sexual harassment by several leading female wrestlers of the country, postponed a public awareness rally of seers proposed to be held at Ayodhya’s Ramkatha Park on June 5, despite the vocal support of the seers of Ayodhya.

Many reasons can be cited and debated behind the decision. However, during the episode, a kind of disturbing but undeniable nexus between religion and patriarchal forces emerged after various religious and political leaders came out in open support for him.

But those who are aware that patriarchy and religion usually go hand in hand are more surprised by the silence of women ministers of the Narendra Modi cabinet on the wrestlers’ protest. Equally surprising was the scant representation and almost nil participation of women members in the religious rituals at the inauguration ceremony of the new Parliament House.

Meanwhile, many people are surprised how the Modi government seems to be defending Singh despite facing criticism from all quarters. Yet, Singh was so ‘insecure’ that he had to seek support from the seers who, in turn, did not shy away from showcasing how religious hegemony stands against women.

However, most people know that a man in any power structure or system nurtured by patriarchy stands up for a victimised woman only if in his opinion the woman ‘belongs’ to him and thus ‘saving’ her ‘honour’ is a matter of pride for him. Moreover, he finds it necessary for the one causing pain to the woman to be a ‘man’ from the ‘opposite’ camp, because the pain caused by men on his side of the camp is not pain at all; that is something they are entitled to do.

An example of this behaviour emerged in 2019 when Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray became the chief minister of Maharashtra by shifting to the ‘other’ side and ‘misused’ his powers to order the demolition of part of Bollywood actress Kangana Ranaut’s bungalow alleging encroachment. Ranaut was part of the group Thackeray had left. He immediately became a villain in the eyes of many seers of Ayodhya who were so full of sympathy and support for Ranaut that they opposed Thackeray’s visit to Ayodhya on completion of 100 days of his government.

But the women wrestlers of the country are not as fortunate as Ranaut because Singh has not changed sides like Uddhav. He is still very much in the camp in close relationship to the seers. It is, in fact, the wrestlers who are on the opposite side.

Meanwhile, the media is not even heeding the request of the women wrestlers not to extol the person against whom they have launched a struggle to get justice and not broadcast his indecent remarks about them. But thanks to the media, the news makes it appear that all the saints and mahants of Ayodhya have united and gathered in support of Singh and they will fight tooth and nail to protect him through the proposed rally on June 5. But this is not entirely true.

There is a wide diversity among the saints and mahants of Ayodhya based on creed, belief, and sects, etc. and even though it is a popular saying ‘do not ask for a saint’s caste’, there are caste-based divisions among them as well. As a result, it is very rare to see them unite for a cause. In this matter, the seers and mahants openly supporting Singh are the ones who have been advocating Hindutva on the basis of its supremacy and serving the interests of the BJP and Vishwa Hindu Parishad.

As I write this article, the BJP is trying to separate itself from all these developments.

Also read: India’s Women Wrestlers Are Facing Institutional Betrayal

Who is supporting Brij Bhushan Singh?

Mahant Kamalnayan Das of Maniram Das’s camp, who is at the forefront of the campaign in support of Singh, is inherently pro-Hindutva, being the successor of Mahant Nritya Gopal Das, president of Shri Ram Janmabhoomi Teerth Kshetra Trust.

Similarly, Mahant Mithileshnandini Sharan, who has been very active in this campaign, while listing the defects of the POCSO Act introduced in 2012, called it the basis of ‘character assassination’ and media trial of many dignitaries. He demanded to amend the provisions of the Act.

Before a first information report was filed against Singh under the POCSO Act, mahant Sharan had apparently never seen a flaw in the law. But now he claims that with the law in place, even a hand placed on the head of a minor by a saint to bless him can be treated as ‘bad touch’ and action can be initiated against him.

Ayodhya has been a witness to Singh’s transformation from a student leader and office bearer of the student union at the prestigious Kamta Prasad Sunder Lal Saket PG College to a strongman Hindutva leader. In 1992, he was an accused in the Babri Masjid demolition case. He was also arrested in the case, something he takes pride in.

Due to his long association with the city, there is no dearth of people in Ayodhya who feel indebted to him. He also appears to have many who claim to be close to him. His hometown lies on one side of Saryu while Ayodhya lies on the other. He has many well-wishers on both the sides, inside and outside the BJP because he is considered to be an influential man who comes to their rescue in difficult times.

Singh does not toe the BJP’s party line as he relies more on his personal clout to contest and win elections.

Last year, as part of a special strategy, the BJP had planned to covertly sponsor Maharashtra Navnirman Sena leader Raj Thackeray’s proposed visit to Ayodhya on June 5. But Singh had issued a warning that if Thackeray fails to apologise for insulting north Indians, he will not be allowed to enter Ayodhya.

Another example of his rebellious attitude could be seen when he claimed to be a descendant of Lord Ram first, then a north Indian and a member of the BJP last. He also denied the role of the Thackeray family in the Ram Mandir movement. Despite such challenging remarks by a party member, the BJP top brass has never taken action against him.

Even the opposition Samajwadi Party (SP), which creates a hue and cry against anyone who is accused of being implicated in such cases, whether they are its own members, has opted to stay mum when it came to Singh. If Singh is to be believed, the reason behind the SP’s silence is that unlike Congress leaders, party supremo Akhilesh Yadav knows the ‘truth’ behind the matter. He is more aware of what is going on in the wrestling world than the Congress members.

Some experts believe that the support extended by the seers of Ayodhya to Singh is the result of mutual dependence of both the sides, as they keep seeking refuge in each other and taking advantage of each other’s influence when the need arises. Wrestling has been an age-old tradition among saints and Singh maintains an image of the guardian or saviour of the tradition.

Meanwhile, Suryakant Pandey, a local leader of the Communist Party of India, has asked why the media does not refer to him as a pseudo-saint instead of portraying him as a saint. “That’s because they have not read about the qualities and characteristics of true saints listed by Goswami Tulsidas in Ramcharitmanas,” he explained.

Translated from the Hindi original by Naushin Rehman.

The writer is a senior journalist.