Chandigarh, Feb 6: What does the name Navjot Singh Sidhu bring to mind? Someone who can talk his way in and out of every situation? At least that’s what it was not too long ago. Now, the cricketer-turned-politician-cum-TV star seems to have been silenced in his own backyard – the Amritsar Lok Sabha constituency – by those who are supposed to be on his side.
Sidhu is getting the royal ignore not only from the top brass of Punjab’s ruling Shiromani Akali Dal but also from some senior leaders of his own Bharatiya Janata Party. The Akali Dal-BJP alliance has ruled Punjab since 2007.
In recent weeks, Sidhu has faced the embarrassment of being ignored at official functions in Amritsar. At times, he has not even been invited to the launch of projects in his constituency. Some of these projects, like the recently started local bus service in the Sikh holy city, were among his pet projects for the residents of his constituency.
Punjab Deputy Chief Minister and Akali Dal president Sukhbir Singh Badal, who has been showing a lot of interest in projects in Amritsar over the last one year, has chosen to be indifferent to Sidhu. Even on occasions where Badal and Sidhu have been together at public events, exchanging pleasantries was a mere formality. This was witnessed at one of the recent events in Amritsar. At some other functions and meetings where Sukhbir Badal is the chief guest, Sidhu does not even get an invite.
Sidhu, who has done the vanishing act from his constituency at least three times in recent years by keeping away for months together, has been at political loggerheads with Sukhbir Badal and his (Sukhbir’s) brother-in-law and Punjab Revenue Minister Bikram Singh Majithia. The powerful revenue minister, who is eyeing the Amritsar seat, enjoys quite a clout in the area. He and Sidhu have, in the past, had run-ins on issues concerning Amritsar.
Sidhu left Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal embarrassed and upset last September when he announced a fast-unto-death in Amritsar to highlight the lack of development in the constituency. He even accused the Badal government of diverting crores of rupees meant for Amritsar’s development to other places in Punjab. Sidhu’s move was almost an open rebellion against the Akali Dal-BJP government.
The fast was called off at the last moment after the chief minister intervened and sent a communication to Sidhu saying that the issues raised by him would be looked into. However, following this episode, there is an intense cold war between the two sides. To make matters worse for Sidhu, Sukhbir Badal has started personally handling all development projects related to Amritsar and he makes sure that Sidhu does not figure anywhere in his scheme of things.
Political murmurs suggest that the Badal junior-Majithia combine are eyeing the Amritsar Lok Sabha seat for the Akali Dal and will give another seat, probably Patiala, to the BJP. Amritsar has traditionally been with the BJP.
Even within the BJP, Sidhu does not have many friends. Except for his wife, Navjot Kaur, who is the Amritsar-East legislator and a chief parliamentary secretary (CPS) in the Badal government, no other BJP minister, legislator or prominent local leader has shown any support for Sidhu.
Sidhu, who has thrice won from Amritsar – in 2004, 2006 (by-election) and 2009 – has lost political ground on the constituency. While he trounced a seven-time MP R.L. Bhatia in the 2004 election, winning it by a margin of over 110,000 votes, Sidhu managed to win the seat in the 2009 polls by just over 7,000 votes.
Spending more time on TV shows, be it as a cricket commentator or in laughter and reality shows, Sidhu justifies this, saying that it’s his “bread and butter”. The voters of his constituency though are unlikely to be impressed by actions of their celebrity MP.
(Jaideep Sarin can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)