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Punjab Election 2017: Navjot Singh Sidhu is a good catch for Congress, but a major risk as well

Trust Navjot Singh Sidhu to be noisy.

He may not be taken seriously by political opponents or even vast sections of the electorate, but the noise he manages to generate makes him a good man to have on one’s side. That is the reason the Aam Aadmi Party negotiated for long to have him on its side and the BJP was reluctant to let him go despite his tantrums. Neither could accommodate him because his ambition and electoral value stood in sharp mismatch. Nobody knows exactly how the Congress is going to benefit from him, but it is clear the party finds the cricketer-turned-politician a good catch.

File image of Navjot Singh Sidhu. PTI

File image of Navjot Singh Sidhu. PTI

He will be one of the star campaigners for the Congress in the Assembly polls. It is unclear whether or not he will be fielded against one of the Badals as some media reports suggest. But the Congress would be underutilising him if it kept his role limited to that of a legislator, or a minister in case the party wins. His reputation as a cricketer and his presence on television give Sidhu a much bigger profile. The party would like to make him play a national role and specifically use his vocal power to take on the BJP biggies, particularly Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It helps that he has a grouse against the saffron party, with which he was associated for more than a decade.

Addressing the media on Monday, Sidhu said his joining the Congress was 'ghar wapasi' and he is a 'born Congressman'. It is difficult to explain how, because he has been associated with the BJP ever since he joined politics in 2004. In one of his older videos, he is seen asking Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi to ‘go back to school to learn his manners’ for equating RSS to SIMI. But amid his reputation as a non-serious politician who remained absent from his constituency — Amritsar — for long periods and preferred to devote his entire time to a comedy show, he remains consistent in his criticism of the ruling dynasty in Punjab.

He has been blaming the Badals for not letting him carry on developmental work in his constituency. While resigning from his Rajya Sabha seat, he accused the BJP of asking him to stay out of Punjab so that he would not be a thorn in the Badals’ flesh. It is believed the BJP obliged the latter in 2014 by fielding Arun Jaitley from Sidhu’s parliamentary constituency. On Monday, he blamed them — the troika of Parkash Singh Badal, Sukhbir Badal and Bikram Majithia — for the 'downfall' of the state. In fact, Arvind Kejriwal’s AAP wanted to exploit this to their electoral advantage, but the talks with him were not fruitful. He apparently wanted to be the chief ministerial face of the party — a demand to which the AAP was not willing to acquiesce.

But Sidhu is something of a maverick. It is not going to be easy for the Congress to handle him. If he is not placated with the perks of power, he may switch to the rebellion mode quickly. It is for this reason that Captain Amarinder Singh was not too enthusiastic about him joining the party. But, if sources in the party are to be believed, he was overruled by Rahul. His wife, Navjot, is already in the Congress after quitting the BJP.

So expect the Congress campaign to be noisier and the party’s public rallies livelier from now. But whether Sidhu will occupy the Congress pitch for long remains an open question.


Updated Date: Jan 16, 2017 14:54 PM

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