Navjot Singh Sidhu is practicing in Punjab what the Congress is pursuing across India — an overt realignment towards the Right of Centre. While Rahul Gandhi is trying to position himself, ergo the Congress, as a devoted janeu-dhari (one who wears the sacred thread) with a Hindu lineage, Sidhu has taken over the role of becoming the face of Sikhism in Punjab.
So, those who are under the illusion that Sidhu is letting his heart race ahead of political pragmatism better get this straight: There is a method to his madness, and it is called the pursuit of a panthic agenda. The wily Sardar is trying to upstage the Akalis at their own game and, simultaneously, also become a viable replacement (not alternative) for Captain Amarinder Singh as and when the incumbent chief minister retires from politics.
In a way, he is branding himself as the Yogi Adityanath of Sikhism.
To understand Sidhu's politics, let’s go back to the 2017 Vidhan Sabha elections in Punjab. In the run-up to the polls, two major events were playing out in the Punjab theatre. First, AAP was drawing huge crowds and support in rural areas of Punjab. Many of supporters, it was believed then, were disgruntled Akali voters searching for an alternative. Two, the Congress was struggling to address the leadership question. While Rahul Gandhi was keen on trying out a young set of leaders, he had to ultimately succumb to pressure from Amarinder, who dropped veiled hints of quitting the Congress — something that had the potential to damage the Congress.
The AAP began to self-destruct just before the elections and gradually turned into a non-entity. But, Sidhu knows that the soft-Sikhism appeal that helped AAP make initial gains in Punjab is still a viable poll strategy. Also, he knows Amarinder is growing old and there will be soon be a vacancy in the Congress for a leader who is both urban and, like the chief minister who quit the party after Operation Blue Star, acceptable to Sikhs in the hinterland.
Sidhu's public posturing on the Kartarpur corridor — a bridge that allows Indian pilgrims visa-free travel to Guru Nanak’s final resting place in Pakistan — is a calculated ploy aimed at fulfilling his own ambition of becoming the leader of the Sikhs and, thus, the Chief Minister of Punjab. You can ridicule, criticise and vilify Sidhu as much as you want, but he knows the political advantages of wooing the majority community in a Sikh-dominated state.
That Kartarpur is important for every political party is evident. Asked about its importance, Prime Minister Narendra Modi compared it with the fall of the Berlin Wall. This is a logical extension of former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's desire to have the corridor opened during his historic bus trip to Lahore. The Akalis, similarly, do not want to miss the bus, a desire revealed by Harsimrat Kaur Badal's presence at the ceremony on the Pakistan side of the corridor. A day earlier, she was the star guest at the ground-breaking ceremony in Gurdaspur.
Pakistan now has an unconventional prime minister. In Sidhu, Punjab has an unconventional politician — someone who wears many turbans with ease and chutzpah. Their camaraderie is capable of producing unconventional results. Sidhu, we can be sure, is aware of the potential of this cricketer-turned-peacemaker partnership.
The problem with Sidhu, however, is that he is impulsive, ambitious, impatient, rebellious and a compulsive talker. He is perhaps from the school of thought that says, I can't bend my head even if it is severed. These traits sometimes force him to self-combust. Several years ago, he ruined his cricket career by walking out of the Indian team midway through a series in England. His act was reportedly triggered by his refusal to let then Indian skipper Mohammad Azharuddin belittle and denigrate him. Had he not taken the rash decision to quit and exercised restraint, perhaps his career would have taken a different route, keeping in mind Azhar's eventual fall from grace.
Similarly, as a BJP lawmaker, Sidhu had frequent run-ins with the Akalis, a feud that led to his eventual departure from the saffron brigade. A few weeks later, he got into ego clashes with Arvind Kejriwal, whose party was keen to snare Sidhu into its fold, because he was adamant on being projected the face of the AAP campaign in Punjab. The point is: Sidhu lets his ambition run ahead of him. And when it is thwarted, he turns on his own allies and mentors.
He also suffers from the Subramanian Swamy syndrome: An ailment that makes a public figure a compulsive talker, seeker of controversies, dispenser of wisdom and the final word on almost everything. An ambitious person with a penchant for frequent rebellion and desire for compulsive articulation of every brainwave always runs the risk of harming himself and those around him.
Sidhu's Kartarpur politics is loaded with potential for him and his party. But, only if he controls his tragic traits that have seen him oscillating between careers, controversies and disparate ideologies, turning him into both a jester and a philosopher by turn.
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Updated Date: Nov 30, 2018 19:46:28 IST