Cricketer-turned-politician, commentator, judge of comedy shows, cameo actor, and former Bigg Boss contestant — Navjot Singh Sidhu has donned one-too-many hats. And he is unapologetic about it too — his Twitter bio reads: “Master of All Trades, jack of none, All-in-One”. All in one, indeed. But lately, Sidhu has been trying to push the envelope further, stirring the pot in Punjab Congress, going against his own state government led by chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh and demanding promises to be fulfilled for the “benefit of the people.”
On Wednesday, Sidhu was able to secure a meeting with both Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and Rahul Gandhi — the Congress’ top-most leadership. He even tweeted a merry picture of Priyanka Gandhi and himself after a “long meeting” with her — perhaps in a show of power and proximity to the high command.
Days after his meeting with the Gandhis, it was reported that Sidhu owed Rs 8 lakh in power utility bills, an issue on which he had criticised the Amarinder Singh government recently.
— Navjot Singh Sidhu (@sherryontopp) June 30, 2021
While a resolution to the long-drawn tussle between him and Captain Amarinder Singh may not yet be in sight, Sidhu’s antics have, without a doubt, ensured he captures all headlines and assumes a pivotal position in the conversations about Punjab politics ahead of the assembly election next year. And that’s why Navjot Singh Sidhu is ThePrint’s Newsmaker of the Week.
Meetings, promises and deadlines
In his over two-hour-long meeting Wednesday with Priyanka, and then later with Rahul, Sidhu is said to have been offered “an important role” to placate him. Whether all sides, including CM Amarinder Singh, can come on board with the yet-unknown ‘role’ for Sidhu remains to be seen. What is significant, however, is that Sidhu was able to secure an audience with the Gandhi siblings on the same day. Speculation was rife before the meeting that Sidhu had come to Delhi to meet Rahul, but the latter had denied to the media persons outside his home that such a meeting was scheduled.
Just last week, when Amarinder Singh was in Delhi for two days to give his statement before an All India Congress Committee (AICC) panel appointed to resolve the Punjab leadership crisis, he didn’t get an audience with Rahul or Priyanka. However, Singh’s team maintains that this was because the CM never sought any appointment with the Gandhis.
But such claims aren’t enough to dispel Sidhu’s growing clout in the Congress. And Wednesday’s meeting only reasserts what he has often suggested in the past: that he was ‘handpicked’ by the Gandhis when he made his switch from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to the Congress in 2016, just months before the 2017 Punjab assembly election.
Sidhu’s ‘complaints’ are manifold, all pertaining to the promises the Congress made before the last assembly election. He alleges that the Amarinder Singh-led government hasn’t acted against the drug racketeers or the sand and transport mafia.
He has also accused the Captain of failing to provide free power and electricity to urban households, or scrap the “wrongful” power purchase agreements. But, perhaps the most important issue is that of the Bargari sacrilege case of 2015. Sidhu has accused the CM of being “weak” on the case, and not presenting the special investigation team’s findings clearly.
Failure to implement other promises like providing scholarships and loan waivers to Scheduled Caste students also feature in Sidhu’s list of complaints.
Several of these were part of the Congress’ manifesto for the 2017 Punjab election. In what was seen as a small win for Sidhu, the Captain was recently given a deadline to fulfil 18 poll promises by the AICC panel.
From ‘Sixer Sidhu’ to man with many Sidhuisms
Over the years, Navjot Singh Sidhu has been able to turn himself into a household name. His evocative oratory, commentating skills, metaphors and, perhaps most importantly, his daily visits to our TV screens at night across multiple comedy shows has played a major role in this. His typical Sidhu-esque roaring laughter is unmissable, and etched in our memories from the days he first appeared as a judge on the stand-up comedy show, The Great Indian Laughter Challenge, in 2005. On the flip side, it has also arguably rendered his image as slightly non-serious, that of a “generic funny man.” His one-liners and witticisms during his stint as a cricket commentator had even come to be known as “Sidhuisms”.
But the fact that he has made a career in various fields over the decades has also come to his advantage, and given him an edge when it comes to building diplomatic ties. He is also credited to have used his friendship with Pakistan Prime Minister and former cricketer Imran Khan to help open up the Kartarpur Corridor for Indians in 2019, earning praise and popularity across borders.
Sidhu is also a much younger leader when compared to Amarinder Singh, who will soon turn 80.
But, to the CM’s credit, Amarinder Singh had ensured a victory for the Congress party in 2017, at a time when the BJP’s popularity was at an all-time high. Moreover, despite persistent criticism and public outrage from Sidhu’s end, Amarinder has held his ground, unwilling to cede any space. For instance, sources say that while Sidhu is eyeing the post of the Punjab Congress president, Singh has only agreed for him to be given the deputy CM’s post. Both Singh and Sidhu are Jat Sikhs, and Singh wants the post of PCC chief to be held by a Dalit, who make up a substantial chunk of Punjab’s population.
During the peak of his cricket career, Sidhu was given the title of “Sixer Sidhu” by fans for his ability to hit sixes against top spin bowlers.
Later, referring to Twenty20 cricket, Sidhu had once remarked: “This cricket is like a burger, you can have it once a week, but for a whole meal, you need to return to Test cricket. More than once a week, and it will give you a tummy ache.”
Navjot Singh Sidhu is playing his latest innings in the Congress in a T20 manner and has already hit a few sixes. Whether he can turn it into a real Test and stay in the game for long is something only time will tell. For now, he is at the centre of Punjab politics and most eyes are on him, once again.
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(Edited by Prashant Dixit)