PUNJAB MAY be heading for a four-cornered fight in the upcoming Assembly elections with a new political group in the offing, spearheaded by cricketer-turned-BJP leader Navjot Singh Sidhu and comprising former hockey captain MLA Pargat Singh, and two Independent MLA brothers from Punjab, Balwinder Singh Bains and Simarjit Singh Bains.
There was little information about the front Friday, apart from a picture posted on Facebook by the Bains brothers,
Sidhu and Pargat Singh.
The picture shows all of them and carries the title ‘Awaz-e-Punjab’.
Late in the evening, Pargat Singh finally confirmed the upcoming formation of a “fourth front” in Punjab.
Pargat Singh, who was suspended by SAD recently, said he, Sidhu and the Bains brothers had met at New Delhi on August 31.
“The formal announcement will be made on September 8 by Sidhu,” he said, parrying questions on whether the front will fight the 2017 Assembly election. He said it had been formed to “clean up the system.”
But the Facebook posts were enough to send up a tsunami of anticipation through the day with the possible implications of a fourth corner in what was until now seen as a triangular contest at the upcoming Assembly elections with the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal-BJP combine, Congress and AAP as the main parties in the fray.
In recent days, politicians from the Congress and SAD have been swiftly assessing how badly AAP had been weakened by its internal rebellion after the ouster of its Punjab convenor Sucha Singh Chottepur.
“All like-minded people and politicians are invited to join the front,” Pargat said, not ruling out the possibility of leaders from AAP and other parties joining the new outfit.
He clarified that he had posted the poster of an upcoming political front on WhatsApp and Facebook, where people had responded overwhelmingly to the idea.
The poster, in Punjabi, read, ‘Sadi Jung ohna Takatan virudh, jihna ne Punjab nu barbaad kita’. (Our fight is with those who finished Punjab).
Balwinder Singh Bains also told The Indian Express that the four leaders had come together at a meeting in Delhi.
“We are the Punjab lovers. We want all such people to come up together to form an outfit to come up as an alternative for the people of the state,” Balwinder said.
Sidhu had resigned in July from his Rajya Sabha seat, and was expected to join AAP until AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal declared that “Sidhu needed some more time” to make a decision, sparking speculation that the former cricketer had placed “unacceptable” conditions for his joining the party. The former cricketer has been ambiguous about whether he has left the BJP, and is also being wooed by the Congress.
His wife, Navjot Kaur Sidhu told mediapersons that Sidhu himself would “clear the air” on the new front to the media on September 8. The Sidhus and Pargat had been in touch with AAP in the past, too.
The Bains brothers are two Independent MLAs from Ludhiana who run a non-political organisation, ‘Team Insaaf’, under the banner of which they have been carrying out an anti-Badal campaign. Pargat Singh, former India hockey captain, was suspended by SAD last month following reports that he was warming up to AAP.
On whether former AAP Punjab convener Sucha Singh Chhotepur and expelled Congress leader Jagmeet Singh Brar would also be part of the outfit, Bains said: “We will give a clarion call to all such people so that we can save the state from being looted by the Badals.”
Earlier in the day, some associates of Swaraj Abhiyan chief Yogendra Yadav linked the front to friend-turned-political foe of AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal. They claimed it was Yadav’s brain-child and that it would be his retort to AAP.
Dr Dharamvira Gandhi, Patiala MP and AAP rebel, who is travelling abroad now, may join the front. Prof Manjit Singh, president of Democratic Swaraj Party, a former AAP leader, said, “We all are natural allies.”
Two weeks ago, AAP rebel and MP Dr Gandhi had announced a joint front in Punjab and asked all leaders, cutting across party lines to be a part of it. He had said the front would be run by the regional leaders. However, it is not clear if he was referring to Awaz-e-Punjab.
Jagmeet Brar, leader of Lokhit Abhiyan, rejected the idea of a “fourth front”, saying that Punjab was going to witness a “triangular contest.”
“Although Navjot Singh Sidhu and Pargat are my personal friends, I respect them a lot. But there should be no division of votes in the state. It is time that all those in favour of Punjab’s interests reach a consensus to defeat the Congress and Akalis,” he said.
He added that he was in touch with AAP leaders and that his outfit would extend support to AAP.
Meanwhile, supporters of Chhotepur said he had not yet decided about his future course of action. He would meet volunteers during his fortnight-long programme in 22 districts and consult them about his next step, they added.