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Olympic medallist grappler Bajrang Punia on Friday decided to return the Padma Shri award in protest over the election of Sanjay Singh, a Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh loyalist, as the president of Wrestling Federation of India (WFI).

“I am returning my Padmashree award to the Prime Minister. This is just my letter to say. This is my statement,” read a post shared by the Tokyo Olympics bronze medallist wrestler on X, formerly Twitter.

On Thursday, Sanjay Singh was elected as the president of the WFI after the panel led by the close aide of Brij Bhushan won 13 of the 15 posts.

Sakshi Malik, Bajrang and Vinesh Phogat addressed a press conference after Sanjay Singh’s election in which Sakshi, a bronze medallist at the 2016 Rio Olympics, announced that she would quit the sport as a mark of protest.

In a letter addressed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Bajrang wrote: “Dear PM Ji, hope your health is well. You must be busy in many work but I am writing this to draw your attention to the wrestlers of the country.

“You must be aware that the women wrestlers of the country started a protest in January this year against Brij Bhushan Singh accusing him of sexual harassment. I too joined their protest. The protest stopped after the government promised strong action.” Expressing his disappointment, the star wrestler added, “But there was no FIR against Brij Bhushan even after three months. We again took to the streets in April so that the police at least file an FIR against him.

“There were 19 complainants in January but the number came down to 7 by April. This means Brij Bhushan exerted his influence on 12 women wrestlers.”

Also read: New judge to hear sexual harassment case against former WFI chief

Bajrang was stopped at the Kartavya Path by Delhi Police officials when he tried to reach the Parliament to meet PM Modi and hand over his letter in protest against Sanjay Singh’s election.

“No I don’t have any permission. If you can please forward this letter to the PM’s because I can’t go inside. I am not protesting nor being aggressive,” Bajrang said while being stopped by Delhi Police officials.

It’s Bajrang’s personal decision: Sports Ministry

Meanwhile, the Sports Ministry said Punia’s decision to return his Padma Shri award is a personal one but it will still try to convince him to rethink the move.

The Ministry sources said the WFI elections were conducted in a free and transparent manner.

“It is Bajrang Punia’s personal decision to return Padma Shri. The WFI elections were held in fair and democratic manner,” a Ministry official told PTI.

“We will still try to persuade Bajrang to reverse his decision to return Padma Shri,” he added.

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