Navjot Singh Sidhu, who recently launched a forum called the Awaaz-e-Punjab, has abandoned the idea of following through with a new political party to contest the Punjab elections, leading to speculation about a renewal of negotiations with Arvind Kejriwal's Aam Aadmi Party.
Mr Sidhu said in a press release today that he is inviting parties to ally with his forum, which he emphasised is not political, "for the betterment of Punjab".
While this rules out any alliance with the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) of chief minister Parkash Singh Badal and the Congress led by its state unit chief Capt Amarinder Singh, Sidhu’s wife and namesake, sitting BJP MLA Dr Navjot Kaur Sidhu also ruled out any truck with the BJP.
The former cricketer, who recently resigned from the BJP, issued a statement that read, "We will not play spoilsport.... We shall not confuse the people of Punjab but give them clarity to vote in Punjab’s interest. We will not divide the anti-incumbency vote bank which could benefit the corroborative and collusive Badal-Amarinder nexus which has plundered Punjab in the last 15 years. This will defeat our purpose of bringing a change for the betterment of Punjab.”
He offered a practical reason for his decision too. "The minimum time taken by a new party to win a state is almost two years, ample testimony to the fact that three months is too short a time for this Herculean task," he said, signing off with his slogan, "May Punjab, Punjabiat and every Punjabi win."
About his allies, he said, "The launch of the ‘Awaaz-e-Punjab’ forum had a rousing response in Punjab. Some speculative, some putting two and two together, but the majority towards fighting elections [in] Punjab. The Bains brothers (independent MLAs Balwinder and Simarjeet) have roared like lions and wanted to fight 117 seats in Punjab. Hockey legend (and SAD MLA) Pargat Singh the ‘Eternal Optimist’ was in the affirmative. I have pondered over the fluid political situation in Punjab, weighed the pros and cons and come to (a) conclusive decision.” The Bains brothers later told HT that they "fully support” Sidhu’s decision, while Pargat too said, "Sidhu is our leader and whatever decision he has taken is backed by me and the others. At this stage, formation of a new party will benefit the Akali-BJP combine. We will support the party that has the vision for a better Punjab.”
"Sidhu has done this keeping in mind the voters who were getting confused, our detractors were labelling us as BJP agent who want to divide the anti-incumbency votes, our front will extend its support to those people who will work for betterment of Punjab," Sidhu's wife Navjot Kaur told media.
Sidhu, resigned as a nominated member of the Rajya Sabha in July this year and formally quit the BJP earlier this month after launching Awaaz-e-Punjab. For weeks, he was in talks to join AAP but Mr Sidhu said they had fallen through because Mr Kejriwal wants "only yes men."
Reacting to the news Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal said "He has come to know his worth now... a party is like a mother, to ditch her is like ditching a mother."
"He ran away from the contest by deciding against floating any political party. Sidhu is changing his stands frequently in hope of better bargaining with one or the other party," he alleged.
Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal said, "Let them do whatever they feel like. They may float a party or decide against it, how does it affect us. We know their worth."
Punjab Congress chief Amarinder Singh asked, "What did he come here for, just to see our faces. Does he not have the guts to even fight election."
"They (Sidhu's outfit) came to know that they will have to bite the dust, which is why they ran away from the contest," he claimed.