In his own words, Navjot Singh Sidhu is a die-hard optimist who sees an opportunity in every crisis. Sidhu’s past and present do not belie his words. The man is, indeed, like a phoenix, someone who has made a career of rising from the ashes.
Whether as a cricketer, commentator or politician, each trough in Sidhu’s path has only put him on top of a bigger wave. The lower it takes him, the higher he rises.
When the Punjab and Haryana High Court held Sidhu guilty in an 18-year-old road rage killing last week, the first-time Parliamentarian from Amritsar showed how, in a short time in politics, he had honed his skills at political shrewdness and perfected them into an art. He did what a much more experienced politician like Shibu Soren could not. Sixer Sidhu went on the front foot, took the high moral ground and hit a political six — he immediately resigned from the Lok Sabha.
“Technically, he didn’t have to resign. But he took the moral position and everyone appreciated it,” says Arun Jaitley, former Union Law minister and BJP General Secretary. Jaitley, who is the BJP’s man in charge of Punjab, sees great potential in Sidhu, the crowd-puller politician-celebrity in improving his party’s fortunes in the Northern state. Little wonder then that three days later when the court pronounced its sentence, he seemed to have gained political muscle.
Sentenced to three years of rigorous imprisonment, flanked by Jaitley and Shiromani Akali Dal chief Parkash Singh Badal, Sidhu emerged as though the court had declared him a hero and not a killer. By the evening, the BJP-SAD combine had announced that he would be its ‘star campaigner’ in the coming Punjab elections. And yesterday, Sidhu shared the dais in Moga with BJP president Rajnath Singh, L.K. Advani and former Prime Minister Inder Kumar Gujral, where he was launched as the BJP’s face in Punjab. Singh and Advani’s presence at the rally concretised the fact that the BJP is backing Sidhu with all its might.
A new star had been born.
“I will get a chance to go to Patiala and be with my family after two and a half years,” was the first thing Sidhu told HT on Saturday, when he was asked to react to his conviction. For those who came in late, here’s the backgrounder: Contesting the 2004 Lok Sabha election from Amritsar on a BJP ticket, the cricketer-turned-commentator-turned TV personality who hails from Patiala was dubbed an outsider by his political opponents.
To use a Sidhuism, he declared before batting an eyelid that he would not set foot on Patiala’s soil and would live in Amritsar for as long as he represented the people of the constituency. He won the election, got himself a house in Amritsar’s posh Ranjit Avenue, and has never been back to Patiala.
“I didn’t even go back for my father-in-law’s funeral,” Sidhu says with characteristic Jat-Sikh pride. “But now that I am no longer the Amritsar MP, I can go home. I have met my son only twice during this time. And if there is one person I have wronged by keeping my word to the people of Amritsar, it is my wife,” he says rather emotionally. Ask if he speaks to his wife, Navjot, too in Sidhuisms, he quickly returns to his normal self: “When she is around I don’t speak. I have always said my wife is deadlier than a terrorist.”
It’s not just politics. Navjot Singh Sidhu has just as successfully cast himself on television.
There is The Great Indian Laughter Challenge show, advertisements and cricket commentary. His Sidhuisms resound in the Lok Sabha as well, and Speaker Somnath Chatterjee has been known to demand a Sidhuism or two to liven up debates and discussions, on the occasions that he has got up to speak.
Introducing a Calling Attention motion on the Amritsar SEZ, Chatterjee said of the hon’ble MP: “He is a young honourable member, very athletic and very popular.” At another time, at the peak of his rhetoric, when Sidhu called Amritsar ‘a dying city’, the Speaker responded, “How can Amritsar die with you as the representative?”
Sidhuisms have indeed won him many fans and he knows it. Sidhu works overtime in coining these little quips that he doles out at the drop of a hat, catch and wicket. “A Sidhuism is like a honey-bee. It has a short body, it is sweet and has a sting in the end,” he says. Sometimes, they sting rather hard. And sometimes they rebound.
In 2003, for instance, Sidhu was dropped by ESPN-Star for his outspoken style. But, he says, he remains grateful to the channel for giving him his first break.
And he’s had his share of ups and downs. When he made his debut in international cricket in 1983, Sidhu was dubbed the ‘strokeless wonder’ and eventually dropped after he struggled with the bat. In 1987, he returned as ‘sixer Sidhu’, eventually playing 51 tests, 136 one-dayers, with a test match top-score of 201. In 1996, with the Indian side touring England, in a brazen display of indiscipline, he walked out of the team, packed his bags and came back home. Yet, he was brought back in the side, and he went on to score a Test double century next year during India’s 1997 tour of West Indies.
Those who vouch for him say the man is ready to pull off a similar feat in politics now after having given up his Lok Sabha seat. However, much depends on the outcome of his appeal against the conviction that he says he will file in the Supreme Court.
Ah well. If the apex court too finds him guilty, his one-liners would be used to entertain fellow criminals in Patiala jail.