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After Supreme Court acquittal, Sidhu's politics may get more bite

Rajeev Khanna | Updated on: 16 May 2018, 18:30 IST

His acquittal in a three decade-old road rage case from the Supreme Court is all set to broaden the area of influence of cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu, not only in Punjab politics but in the larger design of the Congress as well. With the shackles of a probable conviction that could have eclipsed his political growth gone, Sidhu now has the opportunity to carve out a niche and a path for his political growth within the grand old party.

There are many in Punjab who feel that Sidhu, who is the current local bodies minister and finance minister Manpreet Badal are the most prominent names when it comes to assuming a successor of the state Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh. Just before the Punjab Assembly polls last year, it was being assumed that Sidhu might be given the designation of deputy chief minister but that was not to be.

Offering the post to someone who had just joined the party a few days ahead of the polls would have led to a crisis within the party.

This was followed by an era where the messages that came out were that every effort was made to confine him to a corner in the political set up. To begin with, he was given the portfolio of local bodies and culture which are seen as 'lightweight' ministries.

More recently, he was cold-shouldered when it came to election of the Mayor in Amritsar after he Congress secured a comfortable win in the local bodies elections there. This was an insult to him as he has been representing Amritsar both as a MLA and Lok Sabha member. To add to this, he had no say in the local body polls in Patiala, Jalandhar and Amritsar that went to polls in December despite being the local bodies minister.

But observers feel that now all this will change. “The baggage of the fear of conviction has gone. He will no be more aggressive in the days to come,” pointed a political observer.He is all set to emerge as a new pole in the Congress in Punjab.

Sidhu has been the most vocal of the Congress leaders who has been seeking action against Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) leader Bikramjit Singh Majithia on the issue of drugs and has been calling for steps to rope in the 'cable mafia' in the state that had prospered during the previous Akali-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) regime.

On both these issues Amarinder has taken a 'cautious approach' that has not gone down well both among the Congress cadres as well as the masses.

Over the last one year there were indications that his perceived closeness to Congress President Rahul Gandhi was also on the rocks on account of is not campaigning for the party candidates in both the Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh.

These were two states where he had been listed as a star campaigner and his popularity as a cricketer and a good orator would have surely helped, particularly in the high profile Gujarat elections where Rahul had made extra efforts to ensure a much better performance than before.

There is a point of view that this baggage of the road rage case had lots to do with Sidhu not taking on the saffron brigade in these two states.

But this perception seems to be changing again if one looks at the speech Sidhu made at the Congress plenary session in Delhi in March, where he made full use of his oratory to convey that he is all committed to the party leadership.

Now after his acquittal there are reports that Rahul, Amarinder and Priyanka were among the first to convey their congratulations to him. He too messaged Rahul, “I am now at the disposal of the party 24x7. My life is yours.” Sidhu is learnt to have met Rahul after a brief meeting with Amarinder on Tuesday afternoon.

Sidhu's political journey started from the BJP and reached the Congress barely a few weeks ahead of the 2017 Punjab assembly polls. He was both a Lok Sabha and a Rajya Sabha member of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). He had decided not to contest the 2014 Lok Sabha poll after he was denied a party ticket to contest from Amritsar and was replaced by Arun Jaitley as the party candidate.

He declined the offer to contest from elsewhere. The party sent him to Rajya Sabha in 2016 to prevent him from joining the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) ahead of the polls. There were numerous speculations about Sidhu making a deal with AAP. He finally joined the Congress after launching a political front, Awaz-e-Punjab, along with prominent Hockey player Pargat Singh and the Bains brothers of Lok Insaf Party.

It can now be expected that the Congress will make full use of him during the campaign in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh that go to the polls a few months down the line. The party needs good orators to counter the speeches made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the fag end of poll campaign in various states that are known to turn the tables in favour of the BJP.

In Punjab, he will now be going full throttle to have his way in matters of governance. In all his political profile is all set for a boost in the days to come.

First published: 16 May 2018, 18:30 IST