FINALLY, WITH just 20 days left for the Punjab Assembly election, Navjot Singh Sidhu joined the Congress at AICC vice-president Rahul Gandhi’s residence in Delhi without any fanfare.
Punjab Congress president Captain Amarinder Singh was not present when Rahul Gandhi welcomed him to the party by presenting him with a Congress sash. Amarinder was campaigning in Punjab, addressing rallies at his native village Mehraj in Patiala and later in Bathinda.
WATCH | Navjot Singh Sidhu Officially Joins Congress, Says This Is My Ghar Wapsi
Sidhu, who had been building the suspense for nearly four months after resigning from his BJP Rajya Sabha seat, and Amarinder spoke on the phone and the Punjab president is said to have welcomed his joining as “great news”.
A Congress leader said the reason why there was no grand announcement of Sidhu’s entry to the party was that it was “getting very late, with only three days left for the nomination process to close”.
The party has decided to launch Sidhu from the Golden Temple in Amritsar on January 19. Congress sources said Amarinder will be present at that function and later both would address a joint press conference and also go for a roadshow together.
It is now expected that the Congress will announce Sidhu as one of its candidates — the party is yet to declare candidates for nine seats — in the February 4 Assembly election.
The party is said to consider fielding him from Jalalabad against Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal, while Amritsar East constituency, where his wife Navjot Kaur Sidhu won on a BJP ticket last time, is seen as a safe seat for him. “The decision will either be finalised by late Sunday evening or Monday morning,” said a senior AICC leader.
Amarinder and Sidhu had exchanged barbs in the recent past. Amarinder called his Awaaz-e-Punjab outfit a “tonga party” and the Sidhu couple “undisciplined”.
On his part, Sidhu once described Congress as “munni se zyada badnaam hui”, riffing on a Bollywood song. He had also alleged a nexus between Amarinder and the ruling Badal family. Sidhu had even issued a statement saying he could join Congress but not with Amarinder at the helm of affairs.
Sidhu’s entry into Congress was part of a strategy designed by Prashant Kishor, who got in touch with him as soon as he floated his Awaaz-e-Punjab front. Amarinder was kept out of the negotiations even when Priyanka Gandhi got in touch with Sidhu and invited him to join the Congress. The Awaaz-e-Punjab was a shortlived experiment. Two of its main constituents, the Bains brothers, who are MLAs from Ludhiana, have already aligned with Aam Aadmi Party.
Sidhu entered politics in 2004 as the BJP candidate in that year’s Lok Sabha election from Amritsar. He won and kpet his seat in 2009, too. But BJP denied him a ticket in 2014. Though the party nominated him to the Rajya Sabha in April 2016, Sidhu resigned a few months later. His wife joined Congress in November 2016.
In an acerbic statement, Shiromani Akali Dal president Sukhbir Singh Badal described Sidhu as an “overrated comedian” and said he had “taken more turns than any cricket pitch in the world”. He also predicted that Sidhu’s shelf life in the Congress was also likely to be very short.