On a day when the Supreme Court pronounced its verdict in a case of road rage against him, flamboyant cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu was seen riding an elephant at a rally against inflation in Patiala. Drama, hyperbole, and passion have always come naturally to Sidhu in his journey from cricket and crickety commentary to judging a comedy show, and finally to politics. Once a popular showstopper — first, of the BJP, the party that he joined when he joined politics in 2004, and then of the Congress, the party he shifted to in 2016 — Sidhu, or Sidhu paaji as he is fondly called, of late took to batting only for himself and Punjab.
While many thought the temperamental Sidhu would renounce public life after his defeat from Amritsar East in the Assembly polls, he did the exact opposite. In the run-up to the Supreme Court verdict, Sidhu spent two frenetic months criss-crossing Punjab, building bridges with people and politicians, both in the Congress (mostly fellow former legislators also swept away in the AAP’s electoral tsunami) and the ruling party.
It was a departure from the past when his mercurial temperament kept most of his fellow legislators at bay. Sidhu, who got a lot of traction when he first launched an offensive in April 2021 against then Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh, began to lose it when he started targetting Captain’s successor Charanjit Singh Channi. In his frequent outbursts, many saw a person unable to accept that he had been denied the top post.
In the last two months, he was routinely accompanied by Congress leaders who claimed their tribe was increasing. He also went and met political strategist Prashant Kishor soon after the latter turned down the Congress’s offer to join the party, calling it a meeting between old friends. There were murmurs of disciplinary action from the high command, with a letter by party in-charge Harish Chaudhry getting leaked to the media earlier this month. But no action was forthcoming. Instead, Sidhu advised Congress not to let go of former Punjab Pradesh Congress (PPCC) chief Sunil Kumar Jakhar — he joined the BJP on Thursday — who was served a show-cause notice. Jakhar, Sidhu said, was worth his weight in gold.
Sidhu also made overtures to the ruling party in the state, famously calling Chief Minister Bhagwant Singh Mann his younger brother. Last week on May 9, he met Mann and called it “the most constructive 50 minutes’’.
His daily outreach puzzled many for there was no election in sight. Yet, he was relentless. There was not a day when he did not venture out. On April 22, when his successor Amrinder Singh Warring was being sworn in as the PPCC chief, Sidhu did not stay for the ceremony for he had to visit the family of farmers who had died by suicide. His daily visits were too frequent to go unnoticed. With both the Shiromani Akali Dal and the Congress relatively muted, and AAP leaders treading with the utmost caution — careful not to be seen or heard too often — it was Sidhu all the way.
Be it the failure of the wheat crop, suicide by farmers, deaths by drug overdose, protests by farmers, allegations of police highhandedness, cases against Congress workers, or political violence, he was the first to visit the houses of the aggrieved people. If he was not travelling across the state, he was tweeting his concerns about its future or exposing “scams’’, constantly questioning the decisions of the Punjab government while providing solutions. “Why is PUNSEED not providing seeds to the farmers to prevent them from being duped by spurious seed sellers? Why are we not doing enough to rehabilitate the drug users?” On Thursday when the verdict was pronounced, he was flagging the issue of price rise.
While observers started calling him the watchdog of Punjab, Sidhu fancied himself as the messiah. “I am fighting for the resurrection of Punjab, it is what I like doing best, I want it to regain its lost glory. It’s the only goal of my life,” he told this reporter.
News about his sentencing was met with dismay, glee, and ridicule in equal measure. Congress leader and former state Home Minister Sukhjinder S Randhawa even went to the extent of calling it good riddance. Sidhu reacted with grace, tweeting, “Will submit to the majesty of law.”
As a political observer put it, “A year is just a blip in the life of a politician, it is not curtains for Sidhu yet.’’ @sherryontop will agree.
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