Sidhu's pinch-hitting for Congress with sharp slogans, humour may work well for Punjab
Coming in at the slog overs of the ongoing political contest Navjot Singh Sidhu is surely proving to be a hard hitter for the Congress in the run up to Punjab polling day.
What Bhagwant Mann has been doing for the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in terms of being the crowd puller, Sidhu is doing for the Congress.
He comes to the stage and starts off with a gesture that represents a cricketer hitting a six. This sets the tone for those who have come to listen to him. It all begins with the slogans like "Aa gaya Sidhu, Chaa gaya Sidhu (Sidhu has come and dominated everything)".
Next comes Sidhu's call, "Bhaj Badala Bhaj ke Punjab di Janta aaondi hai (Run Badal run as Punjab's masses come. Get away from the throne)"
Then after the brief formalities begins Sidhu's hard hitting speeches that are laced with humour, sarcasm and there's no mincing of words.
From the verses of Gurubani, to the quotes from Guru Nanak to the couplets from revolutionary poets like Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Sidhu has been using everything in his verbal armoury to lash out at the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD)-BJP combine on one hand and AAP's National Convenor Arvind Kejriwal along with the party's Punjab in-charge, Sanjay Singh, on the other.
"Main inhan nu putha paa dun. Guru Nanak ne keha si ki sab kuch tera, tera, tera. Par Badalaan da kehna va sab kuch mera, mera,mera. Eh Akali Dal hon Khali Dal ban jauga. (I will make them bite the dust. While Guru Nanak preached the philosophy that everything is yours, yours and yours the Badals believe in everything being mine, mine and mine. This Akali Dal will soon become an empty party)," he said, charged with emotion amidst the cacophony of slogans and clapping by his supporters.
Playing to the crowd
In one of the corner meetings in Pawan Nagar locality of his constituency of Amritsar (East), a youth exhorted Sidhu to arrest Akali leader Bikram Singh Majitha for the rampant drug menace.
The instant reply from Sidhu was, "I just want to hug you. This will happen because there is a law in this land. Their karma will lead them to the prison."
He followed that up with a joke in rustic Punjabi about a male cat drinking up all the milk in a Jatt's kitchen. "The Jatt comes sees milk droplets on its mustache and literally throws the cat across the wall. When one of his family members asks him why he threw the cat as there was no way that the milk would return, the Jatt replies, 'I did not mind his drinking the milk but I could not stand it twirling its mustache'. This is the sentiment prevailing among the people."
Sidhu went on to relate how the BJP and the Akalis tried to wean him away from the holy city of Amritsar and how he resigned his Rajya Sabha seat. "I cannot be away from the 'Guru Ghar' and the people who elected me their MP on successive occasions," he said.
He also narrated with jest how Kejriwal had also asked him to stay away from Punjab and on learning that he was joining the Congress, offered him the post of deputy chief minister.
Calling him a deceptive character and a 'topi wala', Sidhu said, "I am reminded of the song 'Tirchi topi waale' on seeing him. He is a clever man. When I asked him that why not show me the face of your chief ministerial candidate, he tried to divert the issue."
He then milked the public support with a Punjabi idiom - "Saadi the ghodi vi tayyar hai te laada vi baih gaya hai te baraat vi chal payi hai bur tohade te baraat tayyar khadi hai, voti peeepal thalle hai te dulha kaun hai kisi nu pata nahin (We have a bride and horse ready with the bridegroom [Captain Amarinder Singh] sitting on it and the procession is moving steadily. But in your case the procession is static, the bride is lying outside her house as no one knows who the groom is."
He concluded his speech exhorting people to vote for a change and vote for the Punjabi pride and identity.
Beating all odds
In a such a powerful mode, Sidhu has almost no match in his seat of Amritsar (East) where the BJP has fielded Rajesh Honey against him while AAP has given the ticket to 28-year-old Sarabjot Singh. Sidhu's corner meetings are going as strong as full-fledged rallies.
"People remember him for his term as the local MP when he tried to develop this seat. The Akalis did not even allow his wife Navjot Kaur Sidhu to function properly as a BJP MLA. It is because of him that the tag of Amritsar International Airport remains in the city. He was the one who tried to get a solid waste management mechanism working here. But the Akalis stalled all his moves. Instead they forcibly imposed the Bus Rapid Transit System (BRTS), an experiment that has failed elsewhere, on us," said a local advocate Mukhtaj Singh Verka.
People say that their business has suffered immensely because of the BRTS project.
The locals pointed out that with Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi having announced Sidhu as the second face of the Congress, they know that they would be voting for a deputy chief minister. They also say that Sidhu remains a celebrity with a very clean image.
People are also referring to how his wife had constantly raised her voice against the Badals while being the MLA from this seat.
Rajesh Honey has been the BJP's local unit chief and a two-time councillor. He is banking mainly on his local connect and availability in the constituency. He is also playing up the development claims of the SAD-BJP combine.
Sarabjot Singh on the other hand, is making his political debut, and is mainly campaigning on the issues of development and providing employment to the youth while improving the educational standards.
Amritsar (East) remains Sidhu's show even as he goes seeking support for the Congress across Punjab. His candidature from a local seat has immediately contributed to upping the odds for the Congress candidates in the other four seats.
Edited by Jhinuk Sen