After staying away from political scene for over a year before reappearing to participate in former AICC president Rahul Gandhi’s rally, taking on his own party’s government and then praising the Chief Minister in Punjab Assembly recently, former minister Navjot Singh Sidhu has been hitting headlines for his actions. While CM Capt Amarinder Singh has claimed that Sidhu has not been sidelined in the party, the Amritsar East MLA continues to sulk.
The Indian Express looks at how things are shaping up for Sidhu as it is being debated whether the cricketer-turned politician would continue to be in Congress or look outside.
Since when has Sidhu been keeping away from political scene?
Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh had divested Sidhu of Department of Local Bodies soon after 2019 Lok Sabha election citing non-performance. Sidhu was given the department of Power instead. He, however, did not join and resigned from the Cabinet in July last year. He stayed in self-imposed exile since then only to resurface for a day during the opening of Kartarpur Corridor, then to distribute masks, PPE kits and sanitisers during the pandemic in April and recently when senior Congress leader Rahul Gandhi addressed a series of rallies as part of Kheti Bachao Yatra in Punjab in support of farmers.
How was his appearance at Rahul’s rally seen?
He participated in the Kheti Bachao Yatra only for a day that too only after AICC general secretary and Punjab Congress affairs incharge Harish Rawat specially went to meet him at his residence in Amritsar on the eve of Rahul’s visit. Rawat even had breakfast with him the next morning to ensure that he does not back out at the last minute and even accompanied him in his car to Moga where Rahul had to address first rally. But Sidhu’s conduct was not taken kindly by many in the party as he took on Cabinet minister Sukhjinder Randhawa who had conveyed to him to wind up fast. In his speech too, he acknowledged the CM towards the end of his speech and asked the state government not to turn its back towards the farmers. He also embarrassed the government by demanding that MSP for all crops should be given by the state government even if Centre does not want to pay. He did not participate in any other programme of Rahul, who was in state for three days even after Rawat told the media that they were seeking from him to spare some time as there was a huge demand for him in public. Later on, he spoke on his YouTube Channel that the government should nail various mafias active in the state and it would be flush with money and be able to pay the MSP. This prompted many in the party to say that he was looking at a future outside Congress. 📣 Express Explained is now on Telegram
How has Harish Rawat been handling a sulking Sidhu?
Rawat had gone to the extent of calling Sidhu a Rafale, who was Congress party’s weaponry for the next election. Rawat has been working on bridging the gulf between the CM and Sidhu. He had also been saying that he would try his best to bring both of them on the same page.
Has Rawat succeeded?
Yes, to an extent. With party high command, especially AICC general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra intervening and Rawat executing her plan on the ground, the Congress got Sidhu to second a resolution moved by Amarinder against Centre’s farm laws in the recent three-day special Assembly session. Sidhu even praised the CM during his speech. He softened his stand and did not mention mafia in his speech. Yet, he advised the government to make arrangements that the state pays the MSP to the farmers. However, soon after Sidhu had started speaking, the live telecast of the session was stopped. The government later said they had decided to telecast only Amarinder’s speech. This did not go down well with Sidhu as was expressed on several Facebook pages related to him. However, the CM, at a few occasions while speaking to the media stated that Sidhu had spoken well in Assembly.
Why is Rawat appearing to be giving special attention to Sidhu?
Rawat is certainly giving special attention to Sidhu. Congress sources say that it was at the behest of the party high command, who acknowledged that Sidhu was a popular leader in the state. Internally, several leaders acknowledge that even during Rahul’s rallies and tractor shows, the workers were demanding from the party to get Sidhu if they wanted crowds. It is learnt that Rahul told a few leaders that during his rally Moga, where Sidhu also spoke, the crowd was most responsive to the cricketer-turned-politician. The party also feels that if Sidhu quits Congress and joins some other outfit, or floats his own, then it may dent Congress party’s chances of a repeat.
Is Sidhu looking outside the Congress?
Sidhu has been keeping cards close to his chest. He has been wooed by the political outfit floated by former Shiromani Akali Dal leader Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa who urged the Amritsar Eaast MLA to join him and give the state a third front. A BJP leader had recently stated that Sidhu would return to the saffron party. Earlier, there was a buzz that he was warming up to the Aam Admi Party. Sidhu has, however, not given any indications.
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What is Congress preparing to do with Sidhu?
Rawat had been indicating that Sidhu would be given an important role in Congress in days to come and has been saying that he revers Rahul and Priyanka and thinking that “Sidhu would quit Congress is like insulting Sidhu”. The CM has, however, stated that Sidhu could not be made the PPCC chief and his entry to Cabinet could only be in the Power department. Sidhu has always stated that he would want his Local Bodies department back as he could not live with the blot that he was called a non-performer.
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