Cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu was bargaining hard with both the Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), until the Congress literally demonetised him politically. His front, Awaaz-e-Punjab, has been left high and dry after the Bains brothers, independent legislators from Ludhiana, have gone with the AAP.
Now Sidhu, former Olympian and SAD MLA Pargat Singh and Sidhu’s MLA wife, Navjot Kaur Sidhu, have been left with no option but to join the Congress. It will be a merger, as the Congress always wanted, and not an alliance, which was what Balwinder Bains and his more ambitious younger brother, Simarjeet Bains, were insisting on.
Party strategist Prashant Kishor seems to have sold a simple theory to Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi — Sidhu in the AAP can be detrimental to Congress prospects in Punjab. So, the party wooed Sidhu relentlessly through a series of meetings and leaders, including Kishor and Rahul. The AAP too tried the good offices of its leader Gurpreet Bhatti, who is close to the Bains brothers, to win over Sidhu. The Bains brothers broke ranks with Sidhu to ally with Arvind Kejriwal’s party.
CM post offer?
The Congress was able to offer Sidhu what AAP didn’t. According to Simarjeet Bains, the Congress offered Sidhu even the chief minister’s post. “Only Sidhu was in touch with the Congress high command. He told us that Rahul Gandhi, his sister Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, Prashant Kishor, Ghulam Nabi Azad and Ahmed Patel had met him. The party high command offered him the CM’s post if the party came to power. We too waited after that, but the party remained non-committal. Can the Congress ignore Punjab Congress chief Captain Amarinder Singh at this juncture when the entire campaign is woven around him?” Simarjeet told HT.
He said they had tried hard to convince Sidhu and Pargat to join ranks with the AAP. “We were holding regular meetings but could not reach a conclusion. Elections are barely two months away and time was running out for us. We were inclined towards the AAP as we share the same ideology. So we decided to go with the party,” he added. Pargat, the Congress knew, would go wherever Sidhu goes.
Cong’s palace intrigues
While the Congress has been able to engineer a split in Sidhu’s front, it has enough of its own palace intrigues. Amarinder has not been announced as the CM candidate and the cloak-and-dagger games within the Congress seem to be on to prevent it.
The anti-Amarinder lobby has been working overtime. Rajya Sabha MP Partap Singh Bajwa, who was replaced as state unit chief after revolt by Amarinder, has been issuing statements supporting Sidhu’s entry. It is a different matter, though, that both he and another Rajya Sabha MP and former Punjab Congress president Shamsher Singh Dullo openly took on Amarinder over tickets to “turncoats” at Sunday’s meeting of the state election committee.
Sensing trouble, Amarinder too has upped his game. The party may have to announce him as the CM face if it offers Sidhu a meaty deal. But it is the Congress strategists who are smiling. The party has been able to prevent the AAP from taking Sidhu and his bargaining chip with the Congress and also his political capital have eroded, they say. The former batsman must have realised that political strategy, unlike cricket and comedy, is a different ballgame.