Sherry in a corner: How Navjot Sidhu stands isolated in Punjab politics
If one needs to identify a politician who has the knack for digging himself into a political hole Navjot Singh Sidhu is definitely the apt choice. Remember that he had shifted from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to the Congress at the eleventh hour ahead of the Punjab Assembly polls amid talk of his arrangement with the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) not working out. The local bodies’ minister now stands isolated within the Congress camp as well.
Over the last one year Sidhu has managed to remain in the news trying to take on the 'cable mafia' as well as the 'drug mafia' but his party under the leadership of Captain Amarinder Singh has been treading with political caution on these issues. Hence Sidhu's outbursts have not proven fruitful.
Recently his disillusionment with the state of affairs in the Congress almost reached the boiling point when he was looked over by the party when it came to choosing the new mayor of Amritsar. This was seen as an insult to the minister who is representing Amritsar (East) constituency in the state Assembly and has represented the Amritsar Lok Sabha seat in the past
After going incommunicado for a few days, Sidhu came out to convey that he was 'deeply hurt' at 'not being involved' in the election process for local bodies, especially in the municipal corporations of Patiala, Jalandhar and Amritsar that went to polls in December.
He was peeved at both the government and the Congress party not seeking his views while selecting the mayor candidates despite the fact that he is the local bodies’ minister in the state. Sidhu along with 15 municipal councilors seen close to him had stayed away from the Congress party meeting to pick the Amritsar mayor and this had brought substantial embarrassment to the party.
Rural development and panchayat minister Tript Rajinder Singh Bajwa had visited Sidhu's house to pacify the belligerent former cricketer but no one reportedly opened the gates of the house for him. The other Congress leaders have expressed their surprise at Sidhu's annoyance saying that the latter had himself signed a statement authorising Amarinder to nominate the city mayor.
After conveying his feelings Sidhu attended the Cabinet meeting in Chandigarh last week but reports say that his colleagues showed their resentment over his conduct by not acknowledging his presence and refusing to exchange pleasantries with him.
It needs to be pointed out that Sidhu had joined the Congress amid lot of fanfare last January after meeting the then Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi amid talks of his being made the deputy chief minister in the event of the Congress victory. He joined the Congress campaign pretty late but did come up with some hard hitting in the slog overs at the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD)-BJP combine in the state.
But the elections had eventually turned out to be an Amarinder show and he had to remain content with a Cabinet berth. Till some weeks back he was seen as one of the top leaders in the Congress government along with finance minister Manpreet Badal and health minister Brahm Mohindra, but that position stands squandered.
It is also being pointed out that Sidhu's perceived closeness to the Congress president Rahul Gandhi is also doubtful. This is because of his failure to campaign in both the Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat Assembly polls last month. He was a listed star campaigners for both the states where the Congress was fighting a high pitch battle against the BJP, particularly in Gujarat where Rahul himself was seen making the extra effort to resurrect his party. Sidhu is yet to explain why he refrained from taking on the saffron brigade in the poll campaign.
The message for him right now is very clear as far as the Congress set up is concerned. He will have to fall in line. Observers say that he has no other political options left. He has surely come a long way from once being seen as a potential chief ministerial candidate of AAP and the deputy chief minister in the Congress regime to having dug himself into a hole.
The latest episode of his being disillusioned with the Congress over being sidelined in electing the Amritsar mayor gave an opportunity to the Opposition leaders to take potshots at him as well as the Congress.
Leader of Opposition Sukhpal Khaira had gone to the extent of asking Sidhu to join the party. He said that Sidhu has been airing genuine concerns that are being ignored by Amarinder who is not ready to tolerate any person in the Congress with independent views.
Meanwhile, the SAD went ahead asking Sidhu to explain why his actions were being welcomed by AAP and why he was collaborating with Khaira and Lok Insaaf Party to destabilise the Congress government.
Party leader Maheshinder Singh Grewal said, “We can understand the frustration of AAP and why it is welcoming Sidhu into its fold. But Sidhu should explain why he has started romancing AAP and the Bains brothers immediately after his honeymoon with the Congress has turned sour.”
He went on to say that Sidhu has always shown hunger for power and has dropped one party to join another to fulfill his political aspirations. “It seems he now feels he won’t be able to achieve his ends in the Congress party and has started making new combinations,” he said.
Asserting that Sidhu was resorting to tantrums because he had been thwarted from having his say in the appointment of mayors of municipal corporations, the Akali leader said this is nothing new. “Earlier also Sidhu has always resorted to blackmail to have his say in the BJP. This shows he is with the Congress only till he can rule the roost,” the Akali leader said.
As of now Sidhu stands isolated in the political spectrum of Punjab. How he manages to take the centre stage again remains to be seen.