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Boxer Vijender Singh Joins BJP, Maharashtra Congress Recommends Expulsion of Sanjay Nirupam

Boxer Vijender Singh Joins BJP, Maharashtra Congress Recommends Expulsion of Sanjay Nirupam

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Manas Dasgupta

NEW DELHI, Apr 3: Amidst the Congress leaders making a beeline to switch over to the BJP, the Maharashtra unit of the Congress is learnt to have recommended expulsion from the party of the former MP Sanjay Nirupam for his recent remarks against INDIA ally, Shiv Sena (Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray), over seat-sharing for the Lok Sabha election.

The proposal has been send to the Congress high command in Delhi and the party’s disciplinary committee will take the final call, the party sources said.

The decision was taken at a meeting of the state Congress committee, which has also decided to push for the removal of Mr Nirupam from the party’s list of star campaigners in the run-up to the polls. Maharashtra Congress chief Nana Patole said, “We have taken him off as a star campaigner and have also initiated disciplinary action against him over the statements he made.”

The latest casualty of the Congress was the boxer Vijender Singh who joined the BJP on Wednesday. The Olympian had joined the Congress in 2019 and unsuccessfully contested the general elections from the South Delhi constituency, losing to the BJP’s Ramesh Bidhuri.

Sources said the Congress had planned to field the 38-year-old against BJP MP Hema Malini, who has been named as a candidate from the Mathura seat once again. His joining the BJP is expected to help the ruling party consolidate votes from the Jat community, which is especially important in Haryana and Western UP. The boxer is expected to campaign extensively for the BJP in these two areas.

Mr Singh was the first Indian boxer to win an Olympic medal – a bronze – at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. He also won silver medals at the 2006 and 2014 Commonwealth Games and bronze medals at the 2010 edition of the Games as well as the 2009 World Championships.

His joining the BJP was surprising considering that Vijender Singh had backed wrestlers Vinesh Phogat, Sakshi Malik and Bajrang Punia in their protest against BJP MP and then Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh over sexual harassment allegations last year. When Sakshi Malik had announced her retirement from wrestling after a close aide of the BJP MP had won the subsequent WFI elections, the boxer had called it a black day in the history of sports. He had also questioned the silence of Indian cricketers on the issue.

After joining the BJP, Vijender Singh paid glowing tributes to the Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “The way sportspersons are getting respect in the country and abroad now is commendable. When we used to go abroad to fight earlier, to the UK and Dubai, for instance, certain things would happen at the airports sometimes. But since the BJP and the (Narendra) Modi government came to power, we can go anywhere easily.”

He added, “I would like to thank PM Modi and the BJP for the respect that sportspersons get under this government. I would like to be a part of this government, help people and show them the right path. I am the same Vijender that I was and will call a spade a spade,” he added.

A former MP of both the House of Parliament, Mr Sanjay Nirupam has been hitting out at the Uddhav Thackeray-led party ever since it named its candidates for the Lok Sabha seats in Maharashtra.

The bone of contention is the Mumbai North-West seat – Mr Nirupam wanted to contest the seat, but the Uddhav Thackeray-led party has announced Amol Kirtikar as its candidate. The seat is currently held by Shiv Sena’s Gajanan Kirtikar, who defeated Mr Nirupam in the 2019 election. Gajanan Kirtikar sided with Eknath Shinde after the Shiv Sena split. In a sharp move, the Uddhav Thackeray-led party fielded his son Amol from the seat. Gajanan Kirtikar has now said he would not contest against his son. The BJP, it is learnt, wants to field its candidate there as part of its seat-sharing understanding with the Eknath Shinde-led Shiv Sena.

Mr Nirupam has said the Congress leadership should not allow itself to be arm-twisted by Uddhav Thackeray’s party. Soon after the Sena list was out, he remarked, “The Congress should not come under the threat of Shiv Sena (UBT) as the Uddhav Thackeray-led party is not capable of winning any seat without Congress support. Shiv Sena (UBT) arm-twisted the Congress to take five of the six seats in Mumbai. But the Congress should not allow itself to be arm-twisted like this. This action is against the Congress and it’s a ploy to finish off the party in the city,” he said.

Mr Nirupam also alleged that Sena’s candidate Amol Kirtikar took bribes during a free food initiative for migrant labourers during Covid, also known as Khichdi Scam. In a personal attack on Uddhav Thackeray, he said he was the “bachi khuchi Shiv Sena pramukh”, taking a swipe at the split in his party after the Eknath Shinde-led mutiny.

Mr Nirupam has dropped broad hints over his next step. Last week, the former Mumbai Congress chief said he was waiting for the high command to take a decision over the issues he has raised and added that “all options are open for me.”

The Maharashtra BJP president Chandrashekhar Bawankule has said people like Mr Nirupam are “always welcome” in the party if he was ready and his thoughts align with the BJP. “Seeing the political tenure of Sanjay Nirupam, he has done a lot of work for connecting people with Congress. He is well-recognised in North India. Talks with Sanjay Nirupam have not happened yet, but if he is ready and his thoughts align with the BJP, then people like him are always welcome,” he said.

The BJP is not alone. The Eknath Shinde-led Sena has also sent out feelers. Sena MLA Sanjay Shirsat has said Mr Nirupam will definitely be welcomed if he decides to leave Congress in the near future. “Sanjay Nirupam is very angry with Congress. If he wants to join us, we welcome him. However, the final decision in this regard lies with Eknath Shinde,” Mr Shirsat said.

Meanwhile, minister Uday Samant said on Wednesday that eight MLAs of the Opposition Shiv Sena (UBT) would soon join the Shiv Sena led by Chief Minister Eknath Shinde—a claim the Uddhav Thackeray-led party has ridiculed with advice to look inward.

“Eight MLAs of the Uddhav Sena are in touch with me. I am going to arrange their meeting with the chief minister. I can reveal their names but I want to do so when they join us,” Samant said in Sindhudurg-Ratnagiri constituency, where his brother Kiran Sawant is eyeing a Lok Sabha election ticket from the Shinde-led Sena.

The Sena (UBT) now has 16 MLAs, after nearly 40 of its legislators walked out of the party along with Shinde, whose Shiv Sena faction was later granted the party name and symbol by the Election Commission of India.

Reacting to Samant’s claim, Shiv Sena (UBT) chief spokesperson Sanjay Raut said the minister should first look inward. “He should pay attention to his brother, who has tweeted that he wants to withdraw his claim on the Ratnagiri-Sindhudurg seat… The Shiv Sena (UBT) is now a strong party. It does not have deserters and opportunistic people. We are all loyalists. Not a single one of them will leave the party,” Raut said.

Raut said those who had wanted to leave the party for personal gains had already left. “Those who have remained with us are all hardcore loyalists. They will not quit the party no matter what pressure they face. They are the real Shiv Sainiks. Sawant should try to keep their flock together. After elections, their entire party will disappear into thin air,” he said.



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