Cricketer turned politician Navjot Sidhu, who has a knack to remain in the headlines, appears to have cut more than he could chew in his latest spat with chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh.
By remaining adamant on not taking charge of his new portfolio as Power minister and trying his best to push the central high command of the party to force the chief minister to retain his old portfolio of urban and local bodies, Navjot Sidhu has burnt his bridges with the Congress. In yet another instance of indiscipline, he sent his resignation from the cabinet to the Congress president Rahul Gandhi rather than to the chief minister. Obviously he wanted to exert pressure on the chief minister through Rahul Gandhi and other senior leaders.
Capt Amarinder Singh stood his ground during the efforts made by Rahul Gandhi and others for a compromise but there was very little to defend Navjot Sidhu who had come to be known as a detractor rather than an efficient minister.
Navjot Sidhu can, however, cause more damage to the Congress while not resigning as a Congress MLA and continue to pinprick the Capt Amarinder Singh Government. It is a scenario which the chief minister would like to avoid.
Congress high command succumbing to the blackmail by Sidhu would have certainly sent out a wrong message. No government can function where ministers run to central leaders to resolve state issues. If Sidhu was upset he should have spoken to the chief minister and handed over his resignation to him.
Submitting resignation to party chief Rahul Gandhi without informing the chief minister, and then going incommunicado, does no credit to Sidhu. It is evident that he was biding time for a favourable response from the central party leadership. With uncertainty over the presidentship of Rahul Gandhi, who has resigned from the post, and the preeminent position of Capt Amarinder Singh who has been having his say in the party, there was little scope for Sidhu to have his way.
Also he was never welcomed by the party leaders in Punjab as he was seen as an imposition by the Centre. Sidhu has been trying to project himself as an alternative to Capt Amarinder Singh but without success. The other chief ministerial aspirants like Manpreet Singh Badal, Partap Singh Bajwa and Sunil Jakhar, among others, too had been resenting central party leadership’s backing to Sidhu. Even Capt Amarinder Singh has time and again expressed his displeasure which ultimately led to a change in his portfolio. The two had recently indulged in a spat blaming each other for losing some seats in the Lok Sabha elections. Surely such a relationship was not conducive for a long term stay of Sidhu in the party.
Significantly no one, not even a couple of MLAs known to be close to him, like former Indian hockey captain Pargat Singh, have come out in his support. It is also important to note that he has sent his resignation from the cabinet but not from the party. If he decides to quit the party he would face disqualification from the Assembly and shall have to seek re-election.
He can, however, cause more damage to the Congress while not resigning as a Congress MLA and continue to pinprick the Capt Amarinder Singh Government. It is a scenario which the chief minister would like to avoid.
He is already an outcast as far as the Bharatiya Janata Party is concerned. He had declined the party’s offer to him to contest from any other seat than Amritsar and had been highly critical of the party. He is also daggers drawn with Shiromani Akali Dal which had been attacking him due to his confrontation with Akali leaders particularly Bikram Singh Majithia.
He had also briefly flirted with AAP and had met its supreme Arvind Kejriwal and had wanted to be projected as its chief ministerial candidate. After getting no such assurance, he had joined the Congress. Thus he has little chance of getting any welcome back in AAP which, in any case, is in a shambles in the state.
This leaves Sidhu with the support of a section of the splinter group of Aam Aadmi Party, the Punjab Ekta Party led by Sukhpal Singh Khaira, and the Lok Insaf Party of Bains brothers. These together have small pockets of influence after the political vacuum left by the dismembered AAP. That perhaps is the only option left for Sidhu unless he decides to stay put in Congress and wait for his chance.
However despite his popularity as a cricketer and subsequently as a television comedy show judge, and besides his gift of gab leading to his ability to attract crowds, he has little ground level political support. He shall have to work doubly hard to build a strong political base and take other leaders along if he is to make a mark in state politics.