Former BJP lawmaker Navjot Singh Sidhu could join the Congress on Tuesday, a crucial day on which the party’s top election panel headed by president Sonia Gandhi will finalise the remaining candidates for Punjab’s assembly polls.
The cricketer-turned-politician’s move comes after a lot of back-and-forth negotiations with the Congress’s rival, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which failed.
Sidhu will be given the choice by the Congress leadership to contest either from the Amritsar East assembly constituency, held by his wife Navjot Kaur Sidhu till recently, or the Amritsar Lok Sabha seat that he represented thrice in the Lok Sabha before 2014, sources said.
Punjab Congress president Captain Amarinder Singh had resigned from the seat in November over a water sharing agreement dispute between Punjab and Haryana, popularly called the Sutlej-Yamuna Link canal issue.
The assembly elections in Punjab along with the by-poll for the Amritsar Lok Sabha seat will be held on February 4. The Congress fancies its chances in the state but is up against the BJP-Akali Dal combine and the AAP.
If the former BJP MP decides against contesting the elections, the Congress will field his wife from Amritsar East and ask him to campaign for the party’s candidates across the state.
After quitting the BJP in September last year, Sidhu opened channels with both the AAP and the Congress. However, his negotiations with the AAP broke down after the party rejected his demand for naming a chief ministerial candidate ahead of the polls. His wife along with former Indian hockey captain and Jalandhar Cantonment MLA Pargat Singh later joined the Congress in November.
Sidhu is seen in the state as a crowd puller and his impressive record of parliamentary wins made him a top draw for parties.
The Congress will also finalise its third and final list of 40 candidates on Tuesday in a meeting of its central election committee, headed by Sonia Gandhi.
The announcement of the final list has been delayed due to the induction of rebel leaders from the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) that caused widespread resentment in the Congress. The proposed move to field former Akali leaders such as Sarwan Singh Phillaur, Deepinder Singh Dhillon, Harinder Pal Singh alias Harry Mann and Inderbir Singh Bolaria is facing stiff resistance from the Congress rank and file.
Congress leaders have argued that the move to give tickets to these Akali rebels will hurt the party badly in elections as some of them are facing the allegations of being close to drug traders.