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Wrestlers’ Row: Rahul Gandhi Visits 'Akhara' in Haryana's Jhajjar, Meets Bajrang Punia, Others

The former Congress president's meeting with wrestlers comes amid the controversy surrounding WFI, and medals/awards being returned.
Rahul Gandhi and Bajrang Punia

Jhajjar: Congress leader Rahul Gandhi with wrestler Bajrang Punia and other wrestlers at Chhara village, on Wednesday, Dec. 27, 2023. (PTI Photo)

Chandigarh: Against the backdrop of a controversy surrounding the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI), Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Wednesday morning made an "impromptu" visit to an 'akhara' in Haryana's Jhajjar district and met a group of wrestlers, including Bajrang Punia.

Senior Haryana Congress leader Raghuvir Singh Kadian said Gandhi reached the "Virender Akhara" in the Chhara village early in the morning and spent a couple of hours there. He interacted with Punia and other wrestlers.

The former Congress president's meeting with the wrestlers comes amid the controversy surrounding the WFI.

After Gandhi left, Punia told reporters that the Congress leader saw the daily routine of wrestlers at the Akhara and interacted with them.

Asked if the WFI issue also figured during the meeting with Gandhi, another grappler said they told the Congress leader that wrestlers have been through a lot of mental stress.

To a question, he described Gandhi's visit as "impromptu" and said the wrestlers at the "akhara" were not aware about it.

"He reached the Akhara at 6.15 a.m. He asked us about our daily routine, saw how we do our exercises and he too did some exercises.

"We were happy that he has a lot of knowledge about wrestling and also knows some techniques," the wrestler told reporters.

He said Gandhi also had milk, "Bajre Ki Roti" and "saag" with them. Gandhi was also offered some locally grown vegetables which he took along with him.

Vinesh Phogat, a two-time World Championship medal winner, on Tuesday decided to return her Khel Ratna and Arjuna award to the Prime Minister, saying such honours have become meaningless when wrestlers are struggling badly for justice.

Phogat's decision comes days after Olympic medallist Punia and Deaflympics champion Virender Singh Yadav returned their Padma Shri awards and Rio Games bronze medallist Sakshi Malik quit the sport after Sanjay Singh's election as WFI president on December 21.

Sanjay Singh is an associate of Brij Bhushan Singh Sharan and the wrestlers did not want any one close to the BJP MP entering the WFI.

The Sports Ministry had suspended the newly-elected WFI and asked IOA to constitute an ad-hoc panel to manage the affairs of the sports body.

Brij Bhushan was accused of sexual harassment by Phogat, Punia and Malik.

They had held a long-drawn protest at Jantar Mantar early this year.

The matter is being heard in a Delhi court.

Earlier in July, Gandhi had made an impromptu visit to Haryana's Sonipat district and interacted with people and spent time with farmers working agricultural lands.

He had also taken part in paddy sowing.

In May, Gandhi had travelled in a truck from Delhi to Chandigarh to listen to the problems faced by truck drivers.

He undertook the journey during the night and in visuals and videos, the former Congress chief was seen sitting inside a truck, travelling with a driver and speaking to drivers at a dhaba.

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