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HindustanTimes Thu,23 Oct 2014

On a sticky wicket

Harkirat Singh and Aseem Bassi, Hindustan Times  Amritsar, February 21, 2014
First Published: 23:58 IST(21/2/2014) | Last Updated: 00:04 IST(22/2/2014)

After a dream debut on the political pitch in 2004, former cricketer Navjot Singh Sidhu has seen many ups and downs in the past decade as the Amritsar MP.

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With the Lok Sabha elections around the corner, the former India opener is taking guard for perhaps the toughest innings of his political career so far, as he not only has to win over the voters once again but also to confront factionalism in his own camp.

Sidhu, who had emerged as the poster boy of the BJP after his first election, has not only witnessed his victory margin dip but also seen an increase in the number of his detractors, both in the saffron party and the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD).

The past year-and-a-half has been a real battle for the MP. From facing the charge of ‘abandoning’ his constituency for the glamour of television after being dropped from the national team of BJP chief Rajnath Singh, his toughest time came when ‘lookout’ posters appeared in view of his long absence from Amritsar.

It was not the opposition Congress that was gunning for Sidhu; it was his own people in the SAD and the BJP that started asking questions about his ‘disappearance’. At this point, his MLA wife Dr Navjot Kaur Sidhu stepped in to explain that he had no choice as he was feeling ‘suffocated and sidelined’ by the establishment.

Comeback king
However, the MP, who always made an impressive comeback whenever dropped from the Indian cricket team, went back to his constituency to take on the Badals and explain the reasons for his long absence, even taking a jibe at those who called him a ‘tamashbeen’ (one who derives pleasure from frivolity).

“I have to earn to make ends meet. This I do by hosting TV shows and doing commentary on cricket matches. I have no other source of income, unlike most politicians of Punjab, whose sources you all know,” he repeatedly said to justify his TV appearances.

Being ignored by his own party colleagues in Punjab and sidelined by the Akalis, Sidhu was not deterred by the circumstances and showed the guts to take on the Badals when it came to raising his voice for the development of his constituency, which he had sworn never to abandon. An insight into his concerns was seen when he made a strong point for according heritage status to Amritsar in the Lok Sabha and won the support of all MPs of Punjab and even of others through his powerful oratory.

Virtually standing alone when he launched an offensive against the Badals and accused them of ignoring his projects, Sidhu retorted that he felt like an ‘MP in the opposition’. However, he made it clear that his fight for Amritsar and its people would never end till he had achieved his goal.

The ‘Lone Ranger’ threatened to go on a fast-unto-death if an assurance on development projects was not given by CM Parkash Singh Badal. With people hailing the MP’s stand, the CM was compelled to give a written assurance on every development project and its time-bound completion.

The stand-off led to speculation that the Akalis would not tolerate Sidhu’s presence in Amritsar. The BJP is again set to contest from Amritsar but three-time MP Sidhu’s candidature remains uncertain.

Laying to rest speculation that Sidhu might be shifted to a seat in Delhi or could be adjusted in the Rajya Sabha, the MP has made it clear that he will contest only from Amritsar.

Sidhu is aware that he will have to mend fences with Akali minister Bikram Singh Majithia for getting the SAD support.

Though the MP feels “it’s the people who matter and his tussle with the government was for the people of Amritsar”, he is aware that without the full support of the BJP and the SAD, it would be an uphill task for him.

Since Sidhu’s tussle with the SAD leadership is too obvious, there are many within his own party who want the three-time MP to be shifted. His bitter     rival, Rajinder Mohan Singh Chinna, is trying hard to get the party ticket.

Plus points
Though Sidhu has not been a regular as far as attendance in Parliament is concerned, he has raised issues concerning Amritsar regularly. His oratorial skills have impressed even his die-hard opponents.

The long-awaited city bus service and the Kitchlew Chowk flyover are the projects the MP got started this year after a long tussle with the state government.

Though the MP’s name figures at the top of the contenders’ list, the ball is now in the BJP high command’s court. Only after this clearance will Sidhu face the ‘court’ of the people.

Tomorrow Part 14 of 34:
Harsimrat Kaur Badal, Bathinda

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