Amritsar MP Navjot Singh Sidhu has been conspicuous by his absence from his constituency for the past eight months, but was never out of sight.
The three-time MP kept surfacing in the limelight-hogging world of cricket commentary and television shows time and again even as his electors had to put up with collapsing infrastructure, worsening civic amenities and deteriorating law and order. After posters offering cash reward of Rs 2 lakh for anyone giving clues about the missing MP appeared in Amritsar, his wife, chief parliamentary secretary Dr Navjot Kaur, promised his return to the constituency to face the people.
But Sidhu, the one-time poster boy and also the most prominent Sikh face of the BJP, is likely to find himself on a sticky wicket on his return.
The cricketer-turned-politician, who had made a dream debut by defeating Congress veteran RL Bhatia by over one lakh votes, has been losing ground consistently with victory margin shrinking each time. His differences within the party have grown and his popularity declined. The BJP leadership also has been left embarrassed by its MP's prolonged absence from the constituency and public meetings of the party bigwigs in the area, but has refrained from any remarks in public so far.
While Navjot Kaur and the couple's supporters have blamed neglect by the party for his foray into the television world, Sidhu, who originally hails from Patiala, has a lot of explaining to do to people for abandoning the constituency. There is widespread feeling among the city residents that he should have stayed on and fought for their cause.
Sidhu and his wife have been pushing several projects without much success. Though he had managed to ensure Rs 100 crore from the state government for Amritsar, four-laning of the road to the city and facelift of international airport, many of his projects such as visa office at the border, special economic zone, CCTV cameras, multipurpose sports facility and heritage city status are yet to become reality.
The feeling of not having a say in allocation of development funds and party matters led to disagreements and run-ins within the party and also with leaders of alliance partner, Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD). The first tiff happened with a one-time friend and present Punjab BJP vice-president Rajinder Mohan Singh Chinna whose elevation as chairman of Amritsar Improvement Trust was strongly opposed by Sidhu. He was so furious that he even left the city and returned only after Chinna was placed somewhere else. Sidhu also fell out with industry minister Anil Joshi after faring poorly in urban areas in the 2009 elections.
Sidhu, in whose victory the Akali strongholds had played a significant role in 2009 had a verbal duel with public relations minister Bikram Majithia after the municipal elections. Last week, Navjot Kaur, who has been doing most of the talking lately, had also slammed the state government for lacking vision and her own party not doing anything about neglect of its MLAs in the SAD-BJP government. "I feel the BJP seats are not being given the kind of attention they require. And, this is certainly not good for the alliance," she told HT last week.
Her outburst did not go down well with chief minister Parkash Singh Badal and other Akali leaders who seem riled by her remark. Amid all this acrimony, Sidhu, who is set to make an appearance after a gap of eight months, faces an uphill task. He will not only have to cover lost ground, but mend faces. He will need a lot more than his one-liners for this.
Sidhu's declining poll graph
2004: Defeated Congress nominee candidate RL Bhatia by 1.07 lakh votes
2007: Defeated Congress candidate Surinder Singla by 69,000 votes
2009: Scraped past Congress rival OP Soni by 7,000 votes
How the MP kept himself busy?
October 2012: Worked in popular TV show Bigg Boss 6
April 2013: Hosted a show in Indian Premier League
June 2013: Did commentary assignments for ICC Champions Trophy
July-August 2013: Working in TV show 'Comedy Nights with Kapil'
Performance on MPLADS funds (2009-13)?
Total entitlement: Rs 19 crore
Funds released by GoI: Rs 11.5 crore
Funds available with interest: Rs 11.88 crore
Amount recommended: Rs 15.02 crore
Amount sanctioned: Rs 11.84 crore
Expenditure incurred: Rs 8.84 crore
% utilisation: 76.87
Unspent balance: Rs 3.04 crore