Three rebels from the ruling Akali-BJP alliance are ‘on the loose’ and it is the Congress that is trying to catch them. The party has been witnessing a flurry of activity after resignation of former BJP MP Navjot Singh Sidhu from Rajya Sabha on Monday triggered speculations of his joining the Aam Aadmi Party. It is also attempting to ‘poach’ the two Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) MLAs, Pargat Singh and Inderbir Bolaria, who have been suspended from the party a day after Sidhu’s exit.
After Punjab Congress chief Captain Amarinder Singh formally invited Sidhu to join the party on Tuesday, hectic parleys have been on to lure the firebrand leader over fears that his foray into AAP can greatly benefit the latter to the detriment of the Congress. However, Sidhu, who was in New Delhi on Wednesday, remained out of bounds for the media and political leaders.
Though Amarinder and his team denied they had formally approached Sidhu, sources within the party revealed the Congress is trying to get all the three SAD-BJP rebels on board. “The party has sent feelers to Sidhu through his friends in Amritsar and local leaders. We are also trying to get Pargat Singh into Congress. As for Bolaria, he has been in touch with us,” party sources said.
Amarinder said he had already stated he would be happy to have Sidhu and Pargat in the party. “Sidhu came to Delhi on Wednesday and I have learnt from the media that he (Sidhu) has locked himself up in his apartment. I have already issued a statement inviting him to join the party as his father was a general secretary when my mother was Patiala district Congress committee president. Likewise, Pargat was director, sports, when I was Punjab CM and Bolaria’s father was an MLA in my government. All three are fed up and disillusioned by Akali-BJP combine and I invite them all to join the Congress. Dushman ka dushman dost hota hai. SAD-BJP is our enemy, which makes Sidhu, Pragat and Bolaria our friends. Before the battle, every general wants to strengthen his army,” Amarinder told HT.
At Wednesday’s meeting in Delhi with Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, the party discussed the impact of Sidhu-AAP pact on its poll prospects. Owing to suspense on Sidhu’s next move—neither he nor his wife Navjot Kaur Sidhu have yet resigned from the BJP—the party felt it was worth trying to lure Sidhu away from the AAP, which has thrived on waning fortunes of both SAD-BJP and the Congress in Punjab.
But in its bid to poach dissidents of other parties, the Congress will have to encounter resistance from some of its own. Jalandhar Cantonment, the seat Pargat represents, has Jagbir Brar as contender. Brar has now mended fences with Manpreet Badal and would not like to be edged out by Pargat’s entry. Similarly, in Amritsar (south) constituency of Bolaria, Jasbir Dimpa and Harjinder Singh Thekedar are contenders for the party ticket.
‘Sidhu won’t agree to play second fiddle’
But even leaders trying to get Sidhu on the Congress ship see little reason in his choosing it over the AAP. “He will not like to work as second fiddle in the Congress (to Amarinder) when he can become the CM face in the AAP. He was keen on joining the Congress during Captain’s tenure as CM but it was Amarinder who did not support the idea then,” one of Sidhu’s close associates said.
The Congress too knows it and has prepared a counter-narrative. “Sidhu’s entire political career has been at Delhi. He was missing from Amritsar as its MP. Nobody knows him in Sangrur, Bathinda and other areas of Punjab. So, the Congress will not be ruffled if he joins AAP. But we want him to join us as he has old Congress ties,” Amarinder said.
According to party insiders, the offer is being made also as they feel AAP may be exerting “pressure” on Sidhu to join it as was “evident from the timing of his resignation” that came when Arvind Kejriwal was looking for a face-saver after the unsavoury controversy over party’s youth manifesto. It also believes Sidhu will face resistance from Punjab AAP leaders, most of whom have CM aspirations. “The AAP will see a lot of upheavals after Sidhu’s entry and many might jump its ship. The Congress might as well benefit from the uprising,” a senior MLA said, requesting anonymity.