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Can neither afford to ignore Navjot Sidhu nor dump him

Vipin Pubby
Vipin PubbyNov 02, 2016 | 15:51

Can neither afford to ignore Navjot Sidhu nor dump him

Former BJP MP Navjot Singh Sidhu, who had resigned from his Rajya Sabha seat in July this year, remains undecided about his political future even five months after his sudden decision to quit, and with Assembly elections barely three months away.

Known for his well-timed hits as Indian cricket opener, and later for his quick wit as a judge on TV comedy shows, Sidhu appears to have mistimed his shots in politics.

He continues to toy with possibilities of joining hands either with the Congress or the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). In the process, Sidhu, who enjoys a good reputation for personal integrity, has lost out on his political credibility. 

Evidently, he had resigned from Rajya Sabha, to which he was nominated from the sports category, without any pre-planned strategy. For a week after the announcement of his resignation, he remained incommunicado leading to speculation about his future plans. When he did appear, he only confirmed his resignation and did not disclose his future course of action with the media. 

A month or so later, he announced the formation of a front called Aawaz-e-Punjab, along with three sitting MLAs - two independents and one suspended from the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD).

At a joint press conference, he attacked AAP supremo Arvind Kejriwal and disclosed that he was being asked to campaign for the party "without assurance on any future role". It apparently meant that Kejriwal had declined to accept his suggestion that he be named chief ministerial candidate of the party.

Kejriwal virtually sealed the prospects by tweeting that he would continue to respect Sidhu "whether he joins the party or not". It indicated that the party would not go out of its way to accept his demands, which included tickets for himself and his wife besides a few candidates of his choice.

The AAP constitution does not allow more than one person from each family to contest. However, latest reports say that he is trying to hammer an alliance with the party.

Similarly, Sidhu's attempts at a tie-up with the Congress has seen many ups and downs. Punjab Congress chief Captain Amarinder Singh had initially sent feelers to him to join the party, and had claimed that Sidhu had "Congress DNA" as his father was a Congress leader.

Sidhu, however, shocked everyone by saying that he would like to join the Congress only on the condition that Amarinder not be at the helm of affairs in the party.

The demand was preposterous as the entire Congress campaign in Punjab had been woven around him, with slogans like "Punjab da Kaptaan", "Halke wich Kaptaan" and "Coffee with Captain".

Even though Captain has not been officially named the party's chief ministerial candidate, it is clear to everyone that he will, in all likelihood, be the CM if Congress wins the elections. No wonder Amarinder called Sidhu a "joker" while rejecting his demand.

amarinderbd_110216033534.jpg
Even though Captain has not been officially named the party's CM candidate, it is clear that he will be CM if Congress wins the elections. (Photo: PTI)

However, as part of the typical infighting in Congress, a section of disgruntled leaders have been egging Sidhu on. They also arranged his meetings with senior party leaders in Delhi after bypassing Amarinder. There were reports that Sidhu even met party vice-president Rahul Gandhi, and there are talks about Sidhu's front striking an alliance with the Congress.

Amarinder has made it clear that he is not in favour of such an alliance, but even he appears to have toned down after his latest meeting with Rahul Gandhi. He even offered an explanation that what he meant by calling Sidhu a "joker" was that he was a comedian.

In view of the indecisiveness and procrastination by Sidhu on the future of Aawaz-e-Punjab, the two independent MLAs - Simarjit Singh Bains and Balwinder Singh Bains - have registered a new party. Congress is also separately in talks with the former SAD MLA Pargat Singh, who is also part of Aawaz-e-Punjab.

Sidhu's prolonged attempt to strike better deals with either the Congress or the AAP has dented his credibility. Regional leaders of both parties are not keen to take him and members of his front onboard. There are already a large number of their old warhorses vying for the top post.

Sidhu remains a popular figure and has the capacity to be a good crowd-puller, but woefully lacks political acumen and maturity. What can be more indicative of this than the fact that ever since his resignation from Rajya Sabha, he has not participated in any public rally; nor has he toured the state to gauge public opinion. In fact, his track record as Amritsar MP too was poor.

Still, Sidhu hasn't lost all hope. He continues to be in parleys with the central leadership of both Congress and AAP. The leaders at the Centre think that he is a well-known name in the state and could be a star campaigner who can attract crowds.

Local leaders are, however, wary of offering too many concessions to him and his Aawaz-e-Punjab.

For one, they hold the view that he may be a crowd-puller but lacks grassroots support, and his popularity as a celebrity won't translate into votes. Also, they apprehend that he would demand one of the top jobs overlooking the claims of old leaders.

Given the fact that he has not toured the state for several years or organised public meetings, not even in his former Amritsar constituency, his interaction with voters is virtually non-existent.

Political observers do not foresee his influence, and that of his front, extending beyond half a dozen seats. That's precisely the reason neither the AAP nor the Congress are falling over each other to get his support or accept all his demands. Still, they won't like Sidhu's limited strength to fall into the rivals lap in case of a close contest ahead.

To use a cricket term, he appears to be out "hit wicket" even before he could begin his new innings.

Watch: 

Last updated: November 02, 2016 | 17:48
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