Sunday shocker for former WFI chief Brij Bhushan
Guahati High Court directs ad-hoc panel not to proceed with election process, fixes July 17 as the next date of hearing
CHENNAI: On a day, which coincidentally was the last date to receive names for the electoral college to hold the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) election, the Gauhati High Court has directed the respondents not to proceed with the polls.
The order was issued on a writ petition by the Assam Wrestling Association against the ad-hoc body formed by the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) to run the day-to-day affairs of the WFI. The Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports is also one of the respondents in the petition. The WFI election was scheduled on July 11 while the court has fixed July 17 as the next date for the hearing effectively postponing the poll process at least till that date.
As per the initial announcement by the returning officer Justice MM Kumar, former chief justice of the J&K High Court, the election was scheduled to be held on July 6. However, it was extended by five days after the returning officer heard five state units claiming the right to send their nominations for the electoral college. Assam and Meghalaya too made claims but their pleas were not considered by the returning officer (RO) who felt it was not within their mandate to grant recognition to any party. Following the refusal, the Assam unit moved the court.
However, some believe that it is more than just a coincidence that the matter landed up in a BJP-ruled state High Court. Interestingly, the Assam unit was refused nomination of names over non-affiliation to the WFI and the RO's office said that granting recognition is beyond their mandate. This is not the first time a federation election has been dragged to court. There have been instances when high-profile sports body elections like that of IOA, All India Football Federation were dragged to court and elections held under court directive. In most cases, the sports ministry and the Sports Authority of India showed keen interest. Here too there are indications that the government is taking an active role in the election after meetings with the protesting wrestlers.
Meanwhile, in their plea through advocate Devajit Saikia, who is also Advocate General of Assam and joint-secretary of the Indian cricket board (BCCI), the petitioners sought a direction to the respondents to treat the Assam Wrestling Association as an affiliated member of WFI as stipulated in its constitution with all consequential rights. The petitioners including Ratul Sharma, president of the Assam Olympic Association, also prayed for a direction restraining the respondents from proceeding further with any stage of election without issuing a certificate of affiliation to the state unit.
"Every unit from a state or union territory is entitled to be affiliated as a member of the WFI in terms of Article III (a) of the WFI constitution. The Assam association requested the same but has not yet been affiliated despite a recommendation made by the then executive committee to the general council after its meeting held in Gonda, Uttar Pradesh on November 15, 2014," advocate Saikia told this daily. Adding further, he said, "The state unit made several efforts for affiliation since then and the WFI also acknowledged the same through an e-mail dated May 23, 2019 but never got the desired result."
Since 2014, the election to appoint the executive committee of the WFI had been conducted twice — one each in 2014 and 2019. Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh retained his post as the president of the WFI on both occasions. Even though he was not eligible to contest this time, he was apparently backed by a majority of eligible state units.
"As the last date for filing nominations for the electoral college is June 25 (Sunday), we moved the court for an urgent hearing. Had the election process continued, once again the representatives from the Assam association would have been deprived to take part in the polls. Besides, all these years, the participation of wrestlers from the state depended on the whims and fancies of the WFI. These wrestlers would be deprived of participation in any national tournaments organised by the WFI further if the situation continues and that would be a grave injustice to both the state unit and wrestlers," said the advocate of the petitioners.
The judge on considering the contentions raised by the petitioners directed the respondents not to proceed with the election as per the notification dated June 13 issued by the returning officer. The judge also directed the petitioners to take steps for the service of notice on the respondents.
What next for wrestlers?
United World Wrestling, the world governing body of the sport, has already issued a statement on the issues ailing wrestling in the country. A few days back, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) also urged the IOA to address the issue affecting the WFI by “working closely” with the sport’s world body. The experts, however, believe that the Indian wrestlers can still compete under the Indian flag in the World Championships scheduled in September if the ad-hoc committee apprises the UWW of the situation and manages to convince it to extend the deadline to hold the election. As far as Asian Games is concerned, the entries are being sent through the IOA and the ongoing situation in the WFI will not affect the country's wrestlers' participation in the quadrennial event, said an expert.
Ad-hoc committee can move court
As the ad-hoc committee has been made respondent, it can move the court to vacate the stay. "The ball is in ad-hoc committee's court as it can decide the next course of action. We are ready with the electoral college but it all depends on the committee's next move. Our mandate is to hold the election. It can be held after the July 17 hearing as well," Tapas Kumar Bhattacharya told this daily.
Usually, the election process is not stopped once it is underway. However, there is a very small window, especially in case of glaring anomalies or violations the court can intervene and stop elections. At times the election is allowed to be held and the declaration of the result is withheld until the matter is sorted or is at the discretion of the court.