Two days after cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu resigned from the Rajya Sabha , suspense continues over his switching from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). Though top leaders of the AAP, on the condition of anonymity, say he is joining them, it is not clear when and what his role will be. This has left the field open to speculation and guesswork.
The initial enthusiasm shown by AAP leaders welcoming Sidhu was replaced by guarded public responses over Tuesday and Wednesday. AAP convener and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal’s exulted first reaction to Sidhu’s resignation gave way to a detached response during a function in Delhi on Tuesday. “There is nothing like that,” he replied when asked if Sidhu will be the chief ministerial candidate of the AAP in Punjab.
AAP leader and rights lawyer Harvinder Singh Phoolka took to Twitter on Monday to show his appreciation of Sidhu’s move: “Good brother, you decide to come on Pitch, not just shout from stands. We all who love Punjab need to join hands to eradicate evil.” When contacted on Wednesday, Phoolka said he had no clue if Sidhu was joining: “I was in Tarn Taran with the Punjab Dialogue (AAP manifesto-building) team. I don’t know if anything happened in Delhi.”
Two theories are doing the rounds. On the shift in the AAP response to Sidhu’s resignation, some party sources said it was the result of a strong negative reaction from within the party, particularly leaders in Punjab. Though state unit convener Sucha Singh Chhotepur and campaign committee head Bhagwant Mann have publicly made the right noises on Sidhu, sources said they have not liked being taken out of the CM race, and demanded that the party followed its guiding principle of democratic functioning and allowed the winning MLAs to choose a CM. “Everyone gets a fair chance in that case. The leader who has the largest number of MLAs’ support should become the CM,” said a party leader. A section of Punjab leaders has suggested that Sidhu be asked to campaign and contest in Punjab and then join the race for CM-ship.
As for the other theory, the AAP took one step forward and two backward on Sidhu following the scathing attack from opposition parties, who said the AAP had made a deal with Sidhu after he set some conditions. On Tuesday, AAP Punjab affairs incharge Sanjay Singh and senior leader Ashish Khetan were at pains to explain to the media that there was no “secret or open deal”. Thus, the party’s plan now is to “go slow”, get Sidhu in as the party’s star campaigner, and declare him the CM candidate in the coming months.
The fact that Sidhu has remained incommunicado since his resignation has made it murkier. There is no clarity on whether he has resigned from the BJP or not. While his wife said he had quit the Rajya Sabha as well as the party, there is no sound of it from the party. A few BJP leaders in Punjab suggested that he is back into talks with the saffron party but most others said: There is no comeback door open.