Indian wrestling loses a champion. Primetime couldn’t care less

In May, anchors had questioned the motive behind the wrestlers’ protest.

WrittenBy:Aban Usmani
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There are many women newsroom leaders in the Indian news space. But there was not a single primetime debate on most mainstream channels on the day Olympic medallist Sakshi Malik quit wrestling over a Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh loyalist’s election as the Wrestling Federation of India president.

Protesting wrestlers, who have sought action against BJP MP Brij Bhushan over alleged sexual harassment, had earlier requested sports minister Anurag Thakur for a woman to lead the federation. 

But while Brij Bhushan was removed as the WFI chief after 12 years, his close aide Sanjay Singh has been chosen as the new president, defeating wrestler Anita Sheoran with an overwhelming majority. And visuals of a garlanded Brij Bhushan standing next to Sanjay Singh, coupled with the slogans that “we will continue to dominate”, suggest the BJP MP remains very much in an influential position within the federation.

For protesting wrestlers, this means a status quo within the federation. So the outrage continues, with Bajrang Punia set to return his Padma Shri to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

But a handful of anchors addressed the issue – including Sudhir Chaudhary and Shweta Singh on Aaj Tak, Rajdeep Sardesai on India Today, and Aman Chopra on News18 India – on Thursday.

And even of the group, two appeared to trivialise the consistent demand by protesting wrestlers for the BJP government to not allow anyone associated with Brij Bhushan from contesting the polls.

“The matter is simple,” said Aman Chopra, in a brief segment on Desh Nahin Jhukne Denge, explaining that Bhushan loyalist Sanjay Singh got more votes than Anita Sheoran in a “democratically held election”.

Meanwhile, Sudhir, on his show Black and White, announced that “no one can question the fairness of the polls” as PT Usha had overseen the electoral process. “Elections to sports federations aren’t won with the support of athletes but with state federations,” he said, adding that whoever thinks the election is unfair must think about PT Usha first.

There were some outliers too. On Aaj Tak’s Dastak anchored by Shweta Singh, the ticker pointed to “khadaun raj” or “proxy rule”. The voiceover noted that Sakshi Malik’s exit was a loss for wrestling and safety of protesting wrestlers “could not be assured”.

Meanwhile, on India Today, Rajdeep Sardesai invited Olympian and Congress leader Vijender Singh to speak on the issue on his show News Today. On India TV, Rajat Sharma tore into Brij Bhushan's show of strength, observing crackers were burst despite a ban on them. And on Mirror Now’s Urban Debate, Shreya Dhoundial also hit out at “the arrogance on display”.

From Ram Mandir to mimicry row

All news channels covered the election and Sakshi Malik’s press conference as news telecasts. What were the other anchors talking about on their shows?

On News18 India, Amish Devgan, on his show Aar Ya Paar, discussed the issue of the mimicry of vice president Jagdeep Dhankhar, and the opposition’s role in Parliament.

On Aaj Tak, Anjana Om Kashyap decided to discuss the Parliament suspensions and the “humiliation” of the vice president on her show Halla Bol.

Chitra Tripathi’s Dangal, meanwhile, was dedicated to the Enforcement Directorate’s summons to Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal.

On Times Now Navbharat, editor Navika Kumar’s Sawal Public Ka was only about the Ram Mandir inauguration. In her Newshour on Times Now, she chose the same topic, with a different panel, asking if the INDIA alliance will embrace the temple.

It was not entirely unexpected though, because Navika is infamous for highlighting issues of women safety only when she thinks there is scope for a communal angle. Garba jihad, anyone?

Her colleague Sushant Sinha, on his show News Ki Pathshala on Times Now Navbharat, talked about the controversies in Parliament, skipping any mention of Sakshi Malik’s resignation even in the segment dedicated to a recap of major news events from the day.

Meanwhile, Republic World, which covered the issue extensively during the day, skipped the topic on its primetime show The Debate with Arnab Goswami, who chose to focus on the Opposition’s role in Parliament as well as the ED summons to Kejriwal.

On Republic Bharat, Aishwarya Kapoor’s Poochta Hai Bharat was also framed around the impact of the Opposition’s “humiliation” of vice-president Dhankhar on Jat voters and its poll prospects.

Not much seems to have changed during the course of the wrestlers’ agitation. 

In May, Newslaundry had looked at how the usual suspects on television news had tried to delegitimise the wrestlers’ protest by counting the taxpayers’ money spent on them. One of them claimed they were doing politics, another said a “toolkit gang” was using them for “politics”, another tried to undermine their demands, and one of them even asked if the demand to arrest Brij Bhushan was just to target Narendra Modi.

Watch this for more.

Meanwhile, the Indian Express, in an editorial after Sanjay Singh’s election on Thursday, pointed to a “suspicious pattern”. “Sanjay Singh’s elevation from being a virtual nobody in Indian wrestling to the position of president raises many questions. It is concerning that a body reeling from sexual harassment allegations against its former chief will have no woman member in the new committee.”

With inputs from Sukrit Kumar and Ishita Pradeep.

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