The Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP’s) strategists have been caught napping with the resignation of Navjot Singh Sidhu from the Rajya Sabha, leaving the party without a prominent ‘face’ in poll-bound Punjab.
The Monday setback to the BJP – that also puts its “plan B” in Punjab in jeopardy – came two days after the embarrassment to party strategists in Arunachal Pradesh over government formation.
“Sidhu would have been important to us in case of a split with SAD. He is a Sikh and also an urban face. We lost him and our plan B is now in jeopardy,” said a BJP functionary.
Another leader said: “It was a sixer by the cricketer-politician. As hapless fielders, we just watched the ball fly over the boundary. We were totally unaware.”
Punjab BJP’s in-charge Prabhat Jha said Sidhu had taken the decision “on his own” based on his “political judgment”. “We will treat him like any other political opponent,” he said.
Sidhu has had a strained relationship with BJP ally Shiromani Akali Dal and refused to campaign for the party if it continued with the alliance. Speculations are rife that Sidhu is set to join the Aam Aadmi Party, which will get a shot in the arm if that happens.
The 52- year-old politician’ s decision is also seen as a culmination of his tense equation with the BJP ever since he was denied the party ticket from Amritsar — a constituency he had represented thrice— in the 2014 Lo k Sabha elections.
Sidhu was also included in Punjab BJP’s core group last month, signalling the party’s intention to give him prominence in the northern state to execute the ‘plan B’ in case of a split with the SAD.
Most BJP leaders, however, are in favour of continuing the alliance with SAD, but there are some who suspect that the senior partner might resort to some ‘adventurism’ ahead of the polls.
Recent deliberations within the BJP factored in the possibilities of SAD getting new allies – such as the BSP – ahead of the polls to check AAP eating into its support in the rural pockets.
At 32%, Punjab has the highest proportion of Dalit population in the country, and the BSP got more than 4% votes in the last two assembly polls in the state as compared to BJP’s share of about 8%.
BJP leaders suspect that the SAD may be in touch with the BSP, which could help it keep control in rural areas of the state.
The BJP’s base is mostly limited to urban pockets, where it will have to face the AAP, besides the Congress. The SAD is contesting 94 out of 117 assembly seats, leaving just 23 for the BJP.
Party chief Amit Shah had earlier indicated that his party might want to alter this agreement in its favour. That becomes difficult now.