If Delhi witnessed histrionics in their Chief Minister, AAP convenor Arvind Kejriwal; Punjab has its own drama-king in cricketer-turned-politician, Navjot Singh Sidhu. It was on 18 July 2016, that Sidhu resigned from BJP’s Rajya Sabha seat, making an emotional speech on his love for Punjab. It has been 177 days since then and his political plans are yet unclear.
Known as “Sixer Sidhu” for his prolific batting performances, his International Cricket career lasted from 1983 until 1999. Post retirement, Sidhu took up television commentary, TV shows, films and politics. While working with comedian Kapil Sharma, earlier on Comedy Nights with Kapil and now, The Kapil Sharma Show; Sidhu had been a former Member of Parliament from Amritsar Lok Sabha constituency between 2004 and 2014. The tension in his political innings began, when he was denied an election ticket in 2014 Lok Sabha elections. Sidhu decided not to contest elections from any other constituency apart from Amritsar, citing the emotional bond and the work he had done for the city. His unhappiness with the party was visible and he was expected to take some step.
After his resignation from Rajya Sabha, he decided to join Aam Aadmi Party on the pretext of being its CM candidate. When the same was denied to him, he along with Pargat Singh (ex-Akali Dal MLA from Jalandhar Cantt constituency) and Bains brothers (independent MLAs from Ludhiana) formed a new political front, Awaaz-e-Punjab, claiming to fight against those working against Punjab. His Front broke up due to his decision of not fighting the elections as it was not feasible for a new party to give results in just 3 to 4 months. While Pargat Singh joined Congress, Bains brothers went ahead with AAP, but Sidhu hasn’t still decided upon any role. And this is the root of all confusion.
While Punjab Congress chief and CM-candidate Capt. Amarinder Singh might be announcing Sidhu’s candidature from Amritsar (East) constituency, interestingly, Sidhu himself has never confirmed whether he will join Congress or not, leave alone the suspense over him or his wife Navjot Kaur Sidhu to fight elections or not.
The importance of being Navjot Singh Sidhu
The whole drama of Sidhu being an apple in the eyes of Punjab voters is him being a prominent Sikh face in Punjab. He has a clean image with no history of corruption. Also, Sidhu is a star campaigner and has a sharp political acumen. Both traits make him an uncanny crowd puller. Equally, if not more, crucial are his unquestionable anti-Badal credentials — a reputation he has built assiduously and aggressively by taking the ruling Badal clan head-on. Sidhu is widely seen as a fighter against the Badals which he wears on his sleeve as badge of honour. The Congress wants to cash in on his clean image despite the fact that Sidhu has never taken a clear political stand on any of the issues concerning Punjab.
Congress and Sidhu
Not only Capt. Amarinder Singh, but the opposition (Akali Dal and AAP) are also left in frenzy as to what will Sidhu do next. Even more interesting is Amarinder Singh’s stance on Sidhu, which changes after every fifteen days from hard to soft to hard. The Punjab Congress is confused as to whether Amarinder Singh wants Sidhu in his party or not. Some sources say that there are chances that Sidhu might not contest the Assembly polls for now and stick to campaigning for the Congress. There is another scenario which states that Congress might also offer Sidhu a Rajya Sabha seat.
Another interesting angle in this whole story is the by-election to Lok sabha seat of Amritsar, which has been vacated by resignation of Amarinder Singh on the issue of SYL canal. This election is also due on 4 February, along with Punjab Vidhan Sabha elections. Before entering Congress, Sidhu made a condition, that his wife shall be given a ticket to contest from Amritsar (East) constituency and he should be given the Lok Sabha ticket. When Sidhu realised that Congress might give-in to his demands, he took a step further and asked for becoming the CM candidate from Congress (which had been declined by AAP). It was at this time that the talks failed, when Amarinder Singh made it clear that not only will he be the CM-candidate, but it will be he, who will decide the candidates to all 117 seats. If Sidhu wishes to join Congress, he should do it unconditionally. Further, going by Congress’s norm in 2017 Punjab Assembly elections of ‘one-family-one-ticket’, either Sidhu, or his wife will get the ticket, not both.
The man, who left his MP seat to become CM of Punjab, then on the promise of being a deputy CM (claimed by both AAP and Congress), now is apprehensive of even contesting Assembly elections. While Sidhu keeps his sher-o-shayari and laughter scale up in Kapil Sharma’s show, his dilly-dallying and delaying of candidature is adding to chaos and uncertainty in Punjab’s political scenario.