The above three tweets by Aam Aadmi Party supremo and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal on Friday seemed to confirm the buzz and speculation that former Bharatiya Janata Party MP Navjot Singh Sidhu is fast running out of options.
By saying that it depended on Sidhu whether "he joins [the party] or not", Kejriwal seemed to be making it clear that AAP was not desperate to woo him.
Contrary to Kejriwal's claims regarding preconditions, senior AAP leaders in Punjab pointed out that Sidhu had wanted to be announced as the prospective chief ministerial candidate of the party. He had also, reportedly, sought tickets for his wife and some supporters.
Sidhu, party insiders say, was politely but firmly told that he could not be projected as chief ministerial candidate in view of the resentment it might cause among other senior party leaders. Two members from the same family cannot be given party ticket, under AAP rules. He was, however, offered the role of the party's star campaigner who may be considered for the top job after the election results, provided a majority of party MLAs were to back him, and if the move had Kejriwal's approval.
There had been murmurs of resentment over his likely entry into AAP from top party leaders in Punjab soon after Sidhu resigned from Rajya Sabha and disappeared from public life for a week.
Even the convenor of the Punjab unit of AAP and its senior most leader Sucha Singh Chottepur, himself a serious contender for the chief ministerial post, had stated in public that the party should not declare its candidate now and that he or she should be elected by party MLAs.
The tweets from Kejriwal and the statements by some party leaders have now made it clear that Sidhu has been told the parameters within which he would be welcome in the party. The party also seems to have made it clear that it will not be able to accommodate him beyond a point.
Although the AAP is keen on projecting a Sikh face in the state, there were many who thought Sidhu may not be the ideal candidate. For one, he would have ruffled several feathers which could have upset senior leaders at this crucial stage of run up to the elections. Second, Sidhu had been convicted in a homicide case and though his sentence and conviction was stayed by the high court over a decade ago, an adverse judgment could have put the party in a tight spot. Last but not the least was the apprehension that he could have emerged as another power centre in the party – something that is not known to be palatable to Kejriwal given his past track record.
Running out of options
Kejriwal's comment on whether "he joins the party or not" has further limited Sidhu's options. Although he has not resigned from the BJP, his wife Navjot Kaur Sidhu, who generally speaks on his behalf, has been saying that his resignation from Rajya Sabha could be deemed as his resignation from the BJP. She had made it amply clear to the media that he would be joining the AAP and that she was likely to follow suit.
Yet, significantly, she has changed her stance in recent days. While she has been vocal against the Akalis and had indicated that she would also quit the BJP, she has of late kept a line open with the Punjab BJP chief Vijay Sampla. Not only has she been meeting him, she has been enthusiastically taking part in the party's Tiranga Yatra programme. Sampla, on his part, had been maintaining that Sidhu had not resigned from the party, so there was no reason to ask him to come back to the party. The silence of Sidhu on the issue also indicates that he wants to keep a door open with the BJP but given his hostility with the Akalis, he is unlikely to be involved in Punjab affairs, something that Sidhu had earlier clarified he cannot do without.
This leaves him with the option of joining the Congress. Former chief minister and Punjab Congress chief Captain Amarinder Singh has issued him an invitation and has also pointed out that his father Bhagwant Singh Sidhu had remained an office-bearer of the district Congress committee, Patiala. Some other Congress leaders have also asked him to join the party.
"We all respect Sidhu," said Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala. "He has his own position as an artiste, we can be part of different political outfits and can have political differences, but the way Modi has befooled and deceived him, I wish nothing of this sort happens with anyone. Moreover, I would like to say that Navjot Singh Sidhu should also not have any great expectation from the AAP and Arvind Kejriwal," Surjewala added.
Former state finance minister Manpreet Singh Badal, who had recently joined the Congress, said that he was willing to go barefoot to welcome Sidhu into the party. Former Chief Minister Rajinder Kaur Bhattal also welcomed Sidhu. “He is fit for the Congress,” she said and added that his joining the BJP was just an experiment, and that the "Congress is in his blood".
It is obvious, however, that Sidhu will have limited scope in the Congress. He cannot hope to be projected as the leader or even a deputy leader given the range of senior leaders in the party eagerly waiting to take the top job. Even the party's youth leadership is unlikely to welcome him.
Given the developing circumstances, mainly because of Sidhu's delay in deciding his future course of action, time seems to be running out for him. While he enjoys a good reputation for his personal integrity, he has already lost much political credibility.
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