Navjot Singh Sidhu, former cricketer, who has been fronting a rebellion against Captain Amarinder Singh, Chief Minister (CM) of Punjab, India, with his daily political attacks, seems to have run out of options.
These public attacks have queered the pitch in recent days with even the Gandhi family, who were seen as supportive of Sidhu earlier.
With the Punjab elections mere months away, the Congress High Command appears to have realised that they could push Amarinder Singh (the only mass leader the congress has in North India) so far. Singh has signalled his anger and disenchantment with Sidhu and his backers.
Sidhu’s summer blitzkrieg
Sidhu’s intemperate attacks appear to have even ensured that long-time Singh baiters such as Pratap Singh Bajwa (Rajya Sabha member of parliament) are now publicly signalling distance from Sidhu and support for Singh.
Sidhu, who defected from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to the Congress can’t seem to make up his mind about what exactly he wants. He has vaunting ambitions but, as a minister in the Singh cabinet wanted to carry on his well-paying job as a judge on a television comedy show.
Says a senior Punjab Congress leader, “Sidhu wants to play all the roles and learn no lessons from his years as a cricketer. He is just not a team player but, wants all the glory for himself. When he was a minister, he shied away from doing governance work, preferring to judge his comedy show. When Singh downsized him, he quit the cabinet. From the day he defected from the BJP, all he wants is Singh’s job. Will Singh simply hand it over? No chance.”
Sidhu has freighted a whole lot of belief in the encouragement he got from the Gandhi family but, even they were taken by surprise by his daily personal attacks on Singh.
Sidhu has said, “I am not a display piece to win elections” but, critics in the Congress argue that is what Sidhu is, with his rather non-serious attitude to politics.
Captain Amarinder Singh’s challenge
Singh had challenged Sidhu to contest against him and said that he is in talks with the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) for another switch. Sidhu, who has had prior bitter experience with Arvind Kejriwal, denies this.
Sources in the Congress party told Gulf News that Amarinder Singh conveyed to the Congress panel, which is looking in to Sidhu’s complaints, that he will not accept Sidhu being made Punjab state chief. Singh has also told the Gandhi family that going in to elections with Sidhu as the state chief was something he would not tolerate.
Singh is believed to have added that an election that Congress is almost winning would be lost if Sidhu (who he described as a non-serious politician) was put in charge.
Other ambitious Congress leaders in Punjab are also alarmed at Sidhu’s soaring ambitions. They feel that they have worked for decades and got no reward while a defector to the Congress is demanding all the goodies.
So what does this all mean for the upcoming Punjab elections (scheduled to be held in February-March 2022)?
The Congress which could have scored an easy win is now a house divided with the cracks on full public display.
Akali Dal, which seemed to be a non-starter with their support to the contentious farm laws, has gotten in to an alliance with Mayawati to signal appeal to the Dalit voters of Punjab and Arvind Kejriwal of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is keen to expand his party’s footprint to Punjab.
The Kejriwal factor
In Punjab, Kejriwal’s ambitions match Sidhu’s. As senior AAP leaders, who quit the party in Punjab, point out, “If Kejriwal could have it his way, he would want to be the CM of Punjab. That is the reason I left the party”, says an AAP leader who recently joined the Congress.
Kejriwal has promised Punjab voters a “Sikh face” but, he would like to have a puppet Punjab CM, controlled by him. Sidhu is not a politician any one can control, so his flirtation with Kejriwal appears to have no future.
Sources also note that in recent days the Gandhi family have counselled Sidhu to be patient and wait his turn. Here is the thing though: Sidhu and patience just don’t go together.
Swati Chaturvedi is an award-winning journalist and author of ‘I Am a Troll: Inside the Secret World of the BJP’s Digital Army’.