Cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu is back in the game of hitting sixes. As if political fronts coming up in Punjab are not enough to tie voters in knots, the former BJP MP is giving a new spin to state politics every week.
The latest from Sidhu’s not even one-month-old forum, Awaaz-e-Punjab, is a tie-up bait thrown to both the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and Congress. The Awaaz forum has set a condition for the Congress — any alliance is only possible minus its state chief Captain Amarinder Singh, who, the forum says, has been in “cahoots with the ruling Badals”.
Is Sidhu not able to make up his mind or is he a shrewd bargainer, who wants to extract the best deal? Many in the AAP and Congress have a third theory — he (Sidhu) is playing one against the other as his much-hyped forum has failed to gather political mass. No leader or workers from any party have joined his forum, which remains what it was when announced – a confused quartet.
Though neither the AAP nor Congress have so far given an offer Sidhu cannot refuse, they are trying to catch him, not as much owing to his political equity, but his damage value if he joins the rival camp. Congress poll strategist Prashant Kishor is learnt to have told the party that Sidhu may dent the Congress prospects in Punjab if he goes the AAP way. And many in the AAP feel Sidhu can boost the Congress campaign to the detriment of the party.
On Amarinder, Sidhu’s close aides say the bad blood between the two runs deep as the former Punjab CM had “played a negative role” in his conviction in a road rage death case by the Punjab and Haryana High Court in December 2006. “Contrary to Amarinder’s claims, his relations with Sidhu’s father, Bhagwant Singh, who was an advocate general in his government, were not cordial,” they say.
But there could be more palace intrigues. A lobby within the Congress, which is opposing Amarinder being named as the CM face, is also backing Sidhu. At a time when Captain loyalists are raising the pitch to announce him as the CM candidate and the entire campaign is centred around him, Sidhu can queer the pitch for the state Congress chief.
Though Amarinder had reacted sharply to the forum’s statement saying: “This game of playing one against the other will not work. Do they think Congress president will throw me out of the party so that they can ally with Awaaz-e-Punjab? They cannot disassociate me with the Congress.”
Sidhu’s bouncers have also thrown the AAP in a tizzy. Its leaders HS Phoolka and Punjab convener Gurpreet Singh Ghuggi are batting for Sidhu but others like Sangrur MP Bhagwant Mann have said the party cannot have poll alliances.
Owing to his inconsistent utterances, Sidhu’s bargaining chip has lost much of its value. His shifting stance and ambivalence from a man who calls himself a “protector” of Punjab’s interests but remains incommunicado when he shoots his comedy shows in Mumbai, likes to engage the media in one-way communication through issuing statements and holding press conferences when back in New Delhi, and his meeting Congress and AAP leaders alternatively does not seem to be helping Punjab, Punjabi or Punjabiat, that Awaaz-e-Punjab proudly espouses.