Amid the war of words between the Badals and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP Navjot Singh Sidhu, the Congress on Thursday bowled a googly to the saffron party, inviting the cricketer-turned-politician to its fold.
Union minister for rural development Jairam Ramesh, who is known to have close ties with the Amritsar MP, said the BJP had not treated Sidhu well and he was welcome to join the Congress. "Sidhu is an old friend and I had asked him to join the Congress almost 10 years ago when he forayed into politics. But he chose to go with the BJP. Now, he has realised the way the BJP treats its leaders and I would again extend the offer," Jairam told Hindustan Times.
Sidhu rubbished talk of his switching loyalties to some other party as an attempt to deflect attention from the real issues that he is raising about his constituency. However, he could not be contacted for comment on Jairam's offer.
Meanwhile, the BJP's Punjab affairs in-charge, Shanta Kumar, who had issued gag orders to the MP after Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal asked him to curb Sidhu's outbursts in the media, held a long meeting with the MP in New Delhi on Thursday evening. Kumar refused to comment on the possibility of Sidhu parting ways with the party. "We had a detailed meeting and all issues were discussed threadbare. The matter will be resolved amicably," he said.
By taking his face-off with the SAD-BJP alliance to the point of no return, Sidhu has fuelled speculation of escalating the war before taking the final plunge.
According to some senior leaders in the Punjab Congress, he is in touch with central Congress leaders in Delhi. Punjab Congress president Partap Singh Bajwa is also learnt to be keen on getting Sidhu on board and thinks it will be a "political coup" before the Lok Sabha elections.
Senior Shiromani Akali Dal and BJP leaders, too, feel Sidhu may switch sides as he has "sensed his defeat" from the Amritsar seat. Badal hinted at the possibility when he took a dig at the MP on Wednesday and asked if he had "fixed a match" with the Congress.
A Congress leader said on the condition of anonymity that bringing Sidhu on board may not be possible as he was interested in changing his constituency. "He wants to be shifted out of Amritsar to another seat, such as Patiala. It may not be possible for the Congress to concede the seat of its own heavyweights to him," he said.
What seems to have raised the hackles of the maverick MP is the growing clout of revenue and public relations minister Bikram Singh Majithia in Amritsar. The latter openly claims that he was instrumental in ensuring a win for Sidhu. SAD president and deputy chief minister Sukhbir Badal is also keen on swapping the Amritsar seat with the BJP in an effort to add another seat to the SAD tally in the Lok Sabha polls.