Navjot Singh Sidhu, the maverick cricketer-turned-politician, had always surprised and puzzled the RSS-BJP leaders with his unconventional demeanour and conduct. Puritans in the Sangh Parivar found his rubbing shoulders with TV stars a bit jarring, and his outspokenness on shows as unacceptable.
Yet Sidhu continued to be an important leader for the BJP. He successively won the Amritsar Lok Sabha seat – which houses the biggest temporal and spiritual place for the Sikhs, a community that dominates Punjab.
Following Sidhu's resignation from the Rajya Sabha on Monday, Kejriwal has perhaps veritably pulled a coup from under the BJP’s nose, just in the nick of the time – ahead of the 2017 Punjab Assembly elections, should Sidhu join the AAP. Sidhu’s wife Navjot Kaur, a parliamentary secretary in the Punjab SAD-BJP govt, has also resigned.
The Punjab poll scenario is heating up and Sidhu’s capability of innovative rhetoric, and his ability to mobilise people can hardly be underestimated. And there is ample reason behind it. Sidhu, as a BJP MP in Amritsar, had a running feud with the Badal family. He minced no words in criticising the drug cartels in the state, and in going after a relative of Parkash Singh Badal, Bikram Singh Majithia, for his association with the cartel.
In Punjab, he consistently opposed the Badals for promoting family members and cartels that captured economic avenues in the state. That was the precise reason why he fell foul with the formidable BJP leader Arun Jaitley. Though once considered to be a close confidant of Jaitley, Sidhu found the BJP leadership’s proximity to the Badals too close for comfort.
He expressed his discomfiture at all quarters. But what appears to have got his goat was Jaitley’s decision to contest the 2014 Lok Sabha polls from Amritsar. Sidhu saw it as a conspiracy by the Badals and Jaitley to marginalise him within the Hindutva fold. Given his frequent appearances on TV, he had very little support within the Sangh Parivar. LK Advani, one of his mentors, also stood gradually marginalised.
Meanwhile, Sidhu had developed a very good equation with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He was nominated to the Rajya Sabha in April at the intervention of the PM, though a section of the top leadership was opposed to the idea. In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, his role in Amritsar was a suspect that led to Jaitley’s defeat.
Navjot Singh Siddhu, nominated member, resigns from Rajya Sabha.
— Gurdeep Singh Sappal (@gurdeepsappal) July 18, 2016
In the recent cabinet expansion, Sidhu was expecting to be inducted into the council of ministers. But, another Sikh leader, SS Ahluwalia from Jharkhand-Bihar, was inducted as a minister and Sidhu was left sulking in the cold once again. The needle of suspicion once again pointed towards his known detractors, and Sidhu found the atmosphere within the Hindutva fold too stifling to continue.
As of now, if he joins the AAP Party and is projected as the chief ministerial candidate in Punjab, Sidhu would be more than compensated for his losses in the BJP. As a Jat Sikh, he would manage to get traction within the predominantly Sikh state.
As a leader who successively represented Amritsar in the Lok Sabha seat, Sidhu is more qualified than anyone else within the AAP – a party attempting to make new inroads in the state – to understand the dynamic of the Sikh’s highest temporal seat - the Akal Takht and Golden temple. He is unlikely to be intimidated by either the Badals or by Congress' Amarinder Singh.
By all indications, Sidhu’s presence in Punjab and his unique method of communication with the electorate would pose a serious challenge to the BJP-Akali Dal combine. Despite his eccentricities, it would be wrong to dismiss his desertion of the Hindutva fold as an event without any consequence.