Cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu took to social media on Sunday to announce his joining the Congress, tweeting, “Beginning new inning, on the front foot.” And then added his catchline that has become the flavour of this poll season, “Punjab, Punjabiyat and every Punjabi must win”.
He is likely to contest from his wife Navjot Kaur’s seat of Amritsar East. The party would also like to utilise his mass appeal as its star campaigner.
Sidhu who quit as BJP Rajya Sabha MP last July, flirted briefly with the Aam Aadmi Party before floating his own front, Awaaz-e-Punjab, with hockey Olympian Pargat Singh and Bains brothers of Ludhiana to gain better bargaining power with both AAP and the Congress. But the front fell apart as the Bains brothers joined Arvind Kejriwal’s party. Sidhu’s wife too quit as BJP MLA in November and joined the Congress along with Pargat.
But Rahul could not commit to make Sidhu the party’s CM face in Punjab even as he avoided naming state Congress chief Captain Amarinder Singh as one. Amarinder had also dug his heels over Jalandhar Cantt seat which Pargat represents for his loyalist Jagbir Brar.
So Sidhu played hardball with Congress till Rahul, whom he met earlier last week, assured the Cantt seat for Pargat and a “important role” for Sidhu in Punjab. While Amarinder was quick to tweet a welcome to Sidhu and said he had spoken to him on phone, his rivals, SAD president and deputy CM, Sukhbir Badal, and Kejriwal were unsparing in their barbs.
Sukhbir tweeted, “Did Rahul send you (Amarinder) to Lambi to clear way for Sidhu?” Kejriwal, who has been taunting Captain by calling Sidhu the Congress CM face, tweeted on Saturday, “Sidhu shud fight only from Jalalabad and Captain from Lambi. No safe seats. Direct fight.”
Sidhu hails from Patiala but started his political innings as Amritsar MP of BJP in 2004. He resigned in 2006 following his conviction in a road rage case.
The following year, he appealed to the Supreme Court which stayed the conviction. He went on to win the Amritsar by-election in 2007. He retained the seat in the 2009 general elections but went “missing” from Amritsar after becoming a part of the popular TV show ‘Comedy Nights with Kapil’ and now, ‘The Kapil Sharma Show’
His ties with the Akali Dal leadership went cold and he lashed out at ruling Badals for his no-show in Amritsar, saying they were “blocking” funds for Amritsar’s development.
His ties with the BJP too went downhill after the party nominated Arun Jaitley as its Amritsar candidate for the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. Sidhu gave Jaitley’s campaign a miss which is also seen as one of the factors for Jaitley losing to Amarinder.
Sidhu played 51 Test matches and over 100 ODIs scoring over 7,000 international runs before retiring in 1996.