Navjot Singh Sidhu has an uncanny ability to remain in the news. The dashing batsman, who made a name for himself as an Indian cricket opener, and then a motormouth commentator with his rat-a-tat soundbytes, followed by a career as a Bharatiya Janata Party member of Parliament, has of late more been known for his role on a popular television comedy show.
But many would argue that his role as a parliamentarian has been far from funny.
Sidhu declined to contest the 2014 Lok Sabha elections from his Amritsar constituency, making way for the candidature of Arun Jaitely, who eventually lost to Captain Amarinder Singh of the Congress.
But then in April he was nominated to the Rajya Sabha by the BJP – and everyone thought he was done with Punjab where he had been daggers drawn with the Shiromani Akali Dal, his party’s political allies.
Shortly after taking oath as a member of Rajya Sabha, Sidhu broke his long silence on Punjab politics. He said he was not in favour of the BJP continuing its alliance with the SAD and stressed that while he would be available to campaign on behalf of the party anywhere in the country, he will not do so in Punjab. That had been his stance during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, when he even refused to campaign for Jaitley.
He also indicated that his namesake wife, Navjot Kaur Sidhu, who is a BJP MLA in Punjab, would not contest the next Assembly elections unless BJP parted ways with the SAD in the state.
Bitter public spat
Sidhu’s nomination to the Punjab BJP core committee recently, therefore, came as a surprise to many given his public stand on the alliance.
Party sources, however, tried to spin the nomination as a routine affair – the state’s core committee generally has 16 leaders, including ex-presidents and special invitees as its members, the party officials say, and as a rule the MPs and national level office holders from the state get included in it.
While Sidhu had been vocal and hyperactive in the past, he had been keeping a low profile in Punjab for the last two years, ever since his public spat with Akali leaders. In the past, he had singled out Bikram Singh Majithia, brother-in-law of deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal, who also hails from the Majha region of Punjab of which Amritsar is a part.
Of late, Sidhu's better half, Navjot Kaur, has been doing the talking. When she was recently asked about her husband’s absence from the BJP core committee meeting, she told mediapersons in no uncertain terms that he would not attend any such meeting as long as the party retained its alliance with SAD.
“Shukar karo mein aa gayi (Be grateful that I came),” she was reported to have said, while adding that her husband will not attend any meeting or programme as long as the two parties are together.
She then went on to make a serious charge that illicit drugs were being ferried in vehicles having red-beacons, clearly implying that top state functionaries were involved in the smuggling of drugs.
Her statement predictably caused a furore and the opposition Congress said it was vindication of the party’s stand that very important persons were involved in drug smuggling. The party has demanded a thorough probe of the allegations made by Navjot Kaur Sidhu.
Congress Legislature Party leader Charanjit Singh Channi said that the deputy chief minister can’t just rubbish her statement as part of propaganda to malign Punjab and Punjabis, while pointing out that as a Chief Parliamentary Secretary, she was part of the government.
Navjot Kaur, who has repeatedly asserted that she also will not contest the next Assembly elections if the BJP retains its alliance with the SAD, has often criticised the functioning of the government in general, while targeting the Badals and Majithia in particular.
The BJP leadership has chosen not to react on the issue and has maintained a silence, choosing to duck all uncomfortable questions.
Apart from a stray statement that he won’t campaign for the alliance in Punjab, Sidhu has been letting his wife do all the talking. He has been even keeping his visits to Punjab low key, while keeping away from media.
The 12th man?
Earlier, there had been reports that the Aam Aadmi Party leadership had tried to woo him and project him as its chief ministerial candidate from Punjab. However, the move didn’t work out partly because of opposition from a section of the AAP’s state unit.
Despite his public stand on the Badals, the BJP too appears to be keen to retain him as the possible future face of the party in the state. Even now he is the most recognisable leader of the party from the state. His rehabilitation by nominating him to the Upper House in April indicates that the party did not want to lose him and may want to make use of his services at an appropriate time in the future.