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BJP in suspense over Sidhu?s re-election, SC verdict on Tuesday

BJP is undecided on who should contest the bypoll for Amritsar Lok Sabha seat if Sidhu does not get relief, reports Shekhar Iyer.
None | By Shekhar Iyer, New Delhi
PUBLISHED ON JAN 23, 2007 12:02 AM IST

With the Supreme Court’s verdict slated for Tuesday on cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu's plea for staying his conviction in a road rage case, the BJP is undecided on who should contest the by-poll for Amritsar Lok Sabha seat if he does not get relief.

BJP leaders say Sidhu will file his nominations papers as party candidate for the by-poll if he gets relief from the apex Court much before the January 25 deadline.

If he does not get a stay of his conviction, he will not contest and the party will have to take a call on whether it should let former Union Minister Arun Jaitley or one of the Punjab BJP leaders to contest.

The BJP has authorised its chief Rajnath Singh to name its candidate for the by-election. Singh does not appear to favour Jaitley, who is a member of the Rajya Sabha from Gujarat, seeking election to the Lok Sabha now.

Left to himself, Jaitley would not have minded contesting the poll if Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had acceded to the request of Chief Minister Amarinder Singh and other Congress leaders to be the party candidate.

As the party awaits the Supreme Court's ruling, the BJP president supports the idea to field Sidhu's wife Navjot Kaur from the constituency in case the court rejects the former cricketer's petition. But Sidhu has told Jaitley that his doctor-wife is not cut out for politics. Jaitley supports Sidhu on this matter.

If Jaitley gets to contest the Lok Sabha election, he will become first of the second-line leaders who are members of the Upper House to test his popularity as a ‘mass’ leader. This is an issue that is not comfortable to the supporters of Rajnath Singh who is not a member of the Lok Sabha but the Rajya Sabha.

Only last year, the BJP had decided against Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s plea to let former Union Minister Sushma Swaraj contest the Vidhisha Lok Sabha seat, which he had to vacate on being elected to the state assembly. Finally, MP Minister Ram Pal Singh contested and won the seat.

Just before the Lok Sabha polls in 2004, the top BJP brass decided against Rajya Sabha members from contesting the elections on the ground that they should concentrate on electioneering.

If Sidhu does not get relief and Jaitley is not let to contest, BJP leaders say one of the Punjab leaders like Balramji Das Tandon and Harjit Singh Grewal may get the party ticket from Amritsar.

The BJP's central election committee is also meeting Tuesday to finalise the remaining party nominees for the Uttarakhand assembly elections. Last week, it named 52 candidates for the 70-seat state assembly. The BJP has declared all its 23 candidates for the February 13 assembly elections to Punjab. The Lok Sabha by-election is scheduled for the same day.

Sidhu, who resigned as Lok Sabha MP, was convicted and sentenced to three years imprisonment for the offence of culpabale homicide not amounting to murder for the death of 65-year-old Gurnam Singh in 1988 in Patiala. The former cricketer was granted bail by the apex court after he had surrendered before a Patiala court.

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