In this city that’s the hub of Punjab’s combative Majha belt, Navjot Singh Sidhu, the man who has worn many hats, is conspicuous in absentia. A debate rages uninterrupted over the prospects of him joining the Congress.
Will he? Will he not? There’s curiosity and speculation among his fans and detractors. For his return to active politics would add fizz and bubble to the poll mug, more so if he’s the Congress candidate for the Amritsar (East) seat held by his wife, Dr Navjot Kaur.
The Akali-BJP combine whom he derided and the Aam Aadmi Party who’s overtures he publicly spurned in the past are both anxious. As Capt. Amarinder Singh said the other day, Sidhu could be his force-multiplier in the wordy duel that’s election. The Congress will use him for electioneering across the State.
For this very reason the Sidhu couple are keen that their terms of engagement are settled amicably-- and unambiguously--before his arrival on the poll stage. “We want to work with Captain Saab for the State’s betterment. We don’t want a repeat of our unhappy experience with the Badals and the BJP,” the former cricketer’s wife told this writer. She’s in the Congress already and is assembling cadres for the challenge in Amritsar East.
There are many things common between the Captain and the cricketer-politician: they’re both from Patiala, have represented Amritsar in the Lok Sabha, are strong willed and need no introduction in Punjab. The mass adulation Sidhu enjoys is expected to burnish the former CM’s political connect, thanks to his cricketing days and three terms as member of Parliament. Add to that his fame as the game’s commentator --and a television entertainer teamed up with chartbuster comedian Kapil Sharma, who’s a hardcore Ambarsaria.
Popular as Sherry among his cricketing peers, Sidhu is a pugnacious campaigner. He thinks on his feet, weaving scriptural wisdom with pithy one-liners that make his rivals run for cover.
The upper cut he once landed on the Badals’ chin to question their commitment to the Sikh community is now part of Punjab’s political folklore : “80 per cent meva (self benefit) 20 percent sewa (service to the Panth).”
Sidhu also has in him the mettle to counter the likes of Bhagwant Mann, the Aam Aadmi Party’s frontline campaigner and a candidate against Sukhbir Badal in Jalalabad. He can match Mann’s witticism with a rustic charm and urbane elan that’s entirely his own.
Amarinder has bitter memories too of what are known as Sidhuisms. Especially when he segregated the former CM from his party to justify talks about joining the Congress.
The duo have had meetings lately to get past distrust to sew up a relationship for the future. “Assey ladaiyan nai ladniyan....We won’t be in the Congress to fight personal battles. We’ve to work together with a vision for Punjab’s betterment,” said Dr Sidhu.
A close advisor of Amarinder said that Navjot was all set to join the party on January 11. That his entry to the Congress could still be a bit of touch-and-go was evident from what his wife told a delegation of workers:”Right now we have the faces of both of us in equal size on our campaign posters. One face would be bigger eventually and the other small, depending on the call Navjot takes.”
If he does cross the political barrier, the Sidhu-family wheel would come a full circle. His dad, the late Sardar Bhagwant Singh was a Congressman who also served as the state’s top law officer.
Will Navjot eventually be his father’s son?