After announcing that Awaaz-e-Punjab will not split the anti-incumbency vote and give the ruling Badals another shot at power by forming a party, cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu is open to talks with both the Congress and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).
All four members of the forum — Sidhu, former Olympian Pargat Singh and independent MLAs Simarjeet and Balwinder Bains — met at the former Rajya Sabha member’s residence in Delhi on Sunday night. While Sidhu had made it clear last week that he was against forming a fourth front as it could benefit the Badals, Bains brothers and Pargat are learnt to have prevailed on him that the forum should not be averse to talks even with the Congress.
Clearing the air on their next move, Simarjeet said Pargat was in touch with rebel AAP leaders Sucha Singh Chhotepur and Dr Dharamvira Gandhi to urge them not to form the fourth front.
Awaaz-e-Punjab has opted not to support the party Chhotepur has announced to float and the fourth front Gandhi is trying to cobble together against the SAD-BJP, Congress and AAP.
“Our agenda is to uproot the mafia raj of the Badals from Punjab. The anti-incumbency vote in Punjab will be divided between the Congress and AAP. We are open to talks with both the parties and will support the one which is ready to accept a common minimum programme for Punjab. Both the Congress and AAP have credible faces who want to work for the betterment of Punjab,” Simarjeet said.
The forum has decided to chalk out a common programme in two weeks before bringing it on the negotiating table.
When contacted, Punjab Congress chief Captain Amarinder Singh said the party was open to talks with Awaaz-e-Punjab. “But it is for them to come up with what they want from us. The Congress is doing well on its own. But if their common programme fits into our plan, we will welcome them. After all, Pargat and Sidhu both have Congress in their DNA owing to long association of their families with the party,” Amarinder told HT.
The AAP, however, is now divided on Sidhu. While leaders, including Sukhpal Khaira, have openly welcomed truck with Awaaz-e-Punjab, its MP Bhagwant Mann had said the AAP cannot forge alliances. Refusing to comment on Bains’ statement, AAP Punjab affairs in-charge Sanjay Singh said: “I have no idea about Sidhu’s next step. But his not forming the fourth front is in Punjab’s interest.”
Both the Congress and AAP privately claim the forum is trying to strike a bargain and have failed to get a “rousing” response as claimed by Sidhu, something Punjab CM Parkash Singh Badal has been claiming. But many see Sidhu’s professional commitments — Sony TV has in a statement last week has said Sidhu was not quitting The Kapil Sharma Show — health issues and court cases too as reasons behind his political manoeuvres.
Congress, not Captain!
Navjot Sidhu (Sept 21): “We will not divide the anti incumbency vote bank which could indirectly benefit the corroborative and collusive Badal-Amarinder nexus which has plundered Punjab in the last 15 years.”
Simarjeet Bains (Sept 26), on Sidhu’s earlier statement on Amarinder, “The Congress has also had some great leaders such as Sardar Patel. We are willing to talk to the party for Badal-mukt Punjab.”
Capt Amarinder (Sept 26): “Can they disassociate me from the Congress, or will I be sacked by my party president? They are just upping the ante. This won’t work.”