Cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu seems to be playing his new political innings like an opening batsman he once was. Sidhu has left it to his team of three MLAs — former Olympian Pargat Singh and independent MLAs Balwinder and Simarjeet Bains — to stay in the game after announcing a new front, Awaaz-e-Punjab .
But after Sidhu’s announcement of the forum on September 8, the Awaaz-e-Punjab has gone silent. None of the four have reacted to any development, including Sunday’s Uri attack. The only noise has been from Bains brothers who were evicted from the Punjab assembly during the just-concluded session for raising slogans.
Sources in Awaaz-e-Punjab claim Sidhu will be back full throttle in Punjab politics after his contractual obligations with “The Kapil Sharma Show” come to an end in September. “He will be in the campaign mode from October when we start holding our rallies,” they said. The money Sidhu makes from the show and as a commentator is estimated to be to the tune of `25 crore a year, say his aides.
So far the four-leader front — whom Punjab Congress chief Captain Amarinder Singh has dubbed a ‘tonga party ’ — has no organisational muscle. It is trying to poach disgruntled leaders and workers from the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Congress to make the numbers at the rallies. After his unceremonious sacking , AAP former convener Sucha Singh Chhotepur is soaking in his new-found popularity and mobilising disgruntled AAP cadre to jump onto the Awaaz-e-Punjab bandwagon.
Sources close to Chhotepur revealed that his entry had been decided even before the front was formally announced but he did not wish to rush into it after being removed over a “cash sting”.
“Sidhu wanted to test the waters first. So they (Bains, Pargat and Sidhu) went for a soft launch by announcing the front through a poster on their Facebook pages and later at a press conference on September 8. The new front should have been announced after getting more leaders and volunteers on board. We are now trying to reach out to like-minded people to join us, including acamadecians,” a close aide of Chhotepur said.
Bains and Chhotepur have already met suspended AAP MPs Dharamvira Gandhi and Harinder Singh Khalsa, who are likely to support the front. Prof Manjit Singh, president of Swaraj Party, a breakaway faction of Yogendra Yadav’s Swaraj Abhiyan, too has called the Awaaz forum “natural allies”. The new allies are expected to be announced at a press conference later this month.
Though the AAP, Congress and SAD-BJP are closely watching the front unfold its plans, they are not unduly worried. The Congress sees the front as BJP’s B-team. Sidhu’s MLA wife Navjot Kaur is yet to resign from the BJP. “It is no secret that Sidhu met RSS leadership in Nagpur after resigning from the BJP. The saffron party sees the AAP as a bigger threat than the Congress in the 2017 polls. And it is the AAP that Sidhu is targeting. It is all a part of a bigger RSS plot,” says Congress general secretary in-charge of Punjab Asha Kumari.
But the BJP says there is nothing more to Sidhu than being a celebrity. “Has any leader from the BJP or even Amritsar come out in Sidhu’s support? Can he be a full-time politician and brave the heat and dust of elections,” a BJP MP said, requesting anonymity.