Back in action, Sidhu striving to regain political space

Seen by many for as a reason for Congress’ rout in the last Punjab assembly polls when he was the state party chief, Navjot Sidhu, who has come out of jail after completing his sentence, faces an uphill task as he endeavours to carve a political space for himself, writes Rajesh Moudgil

Former Punjab Congress president Navjot Sidhu, 60, walked out of the Patiala Central jail on April 1, last, after completing his 10-month sentence in a road rage case. He was awarded one-year rigorous imprisonment in the said case by the Supreme Court on May 19, 2022, and he had surrendered before a Patiala court a day later. One Gurnam Singh, 65, had died after being beaten up by Sidhu over a parking issue in Patiala in 1988.

Even though his release from the jail was likely in the morning, he came out of the jail at around 6 pm to a warm welcome by party workers and some leaders who had waited for him since the forenoon.

Conspicuously enough, none of the sitting party MLAs and MPs – barring Amritsar MP Gurjeet Singh Aujla, Sidhu’s friend and Jalandhar Cantonment legislator Pargat Singh and some former MLAs and ministers – were there to welcome him. Most of top leaders including the state unit president Amarinder Singh Raja Warring and leader of opposition Partap Singh Bajwa, were also conspicuous for their absence on the occasion.

Few options in state?

Sidhu, a three-time MP who had won the 2017 assembly elections from Amritsar (east) but had lost to a first-timer AAP candidate in February 2022 assembly polls, is said to be bereft of friends among most of the top leaders in state party unit today.

Accused of being a catalyst for causing the bad blood within the party which caused a humiliating defeat of the party in the February, 2022, state polls, his role for former chief minister Capt Amarinder Singh’s removal from the post and the defeat of Charanjit Singh Channi, who replaced the former, is no secret. He even lost his Amritsar seat before going to jail.

Sidhu was asked to quit as Punjab Congress chief by Sonia Gandhi and was replaced by Amarinder Singh Raja Warring. Sidhu skipped Raja Warring’s appointment function. Even after coming out of jail, he also stayed away from recent Congress’ protest over Rahul Gandhi’s disqualification issue in Patiala.

Sidhu is thus still on the bruised state Congress leaders’ radar.

The former cricketer-turned-entertainer-turned-politician Sidhu, nonetheless, has his set of fan following and supporters and is a media darling.

While most of the party leaders did not want to be named while speaking on Sidhu’s political space after his jail term, the party MP from Ludhiana Ravneet Bittu, according to media reports, does not mince words to say that former chief ministers – Capt Amarinder Singh, who is now in BJP and Charanjit Singh Channi – and Sidhu had caused a major damage to the party.

He said that it was for the party high command to decide on Channi and Sidhu’s roles, and added that the new team of the state party unit was working and its performance would be known after the 2024 polls. Categorically stating that he had nothing personal against the senior leaders named above, he said that their performance in the last assembly polls, nonetheless, was known to all. The party won only 18 of the total 117 seats in Punjab – a steep fall from 77 in 2017 assembly polls.

However, Sidhu loyalists insist he is an honest person who sincerely worked against the mafia in Punjab and that the poll results would have been different had he been consulted for party ticket distribution for the said election. They also say that unlike Channi who also lost both his seats, Sidhu took on the AAP government immediately after coming out of jail.

Rains barbs against Mann govt

Known for his fiery attacks against his rivals, Sidhu wasted no time after stepping out of the jail and told newspersons that there was no such thing as democracy right now in Punjab and that a conspiracy was being hatched to bring President’s Rule.

A day later, he visited the parents of slain Punjabi singer Sidhu Moosewala in Punjab’s Mansa district and slammed the chief minister Bhagwant Mann-led state Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government over the law and order situation. Lashing out at the state’s AAP government, he said that Moosewala, a shining star, was shot dead in Mansa on May 29, last year, a day after his security was pruned.

 He went on to ask as to why the information about the pruning of Sidhu Moosewala’s security was made public. “The same thing is also happening with me now, though I do not care if they want to silence my voice too like Sidhu Moosewala, for, I would continue to speak the truth’’, he said.

 Sidhu also tore into the AAP government alleging that the Mann government  which had come to power by making false promises and showing fake dreams had also failed to act against the mafia. He also alleged that Mann was just a rubber stamp chief minister. He has also termed AAP a party of poachers and said that it had also inducted former Congress MLA Sushil Rinku to contest the Jalandhar Lok Sabha by-election.

 Calls on top leaders

 After his Punjab visits, Sidhu was also quick to call on Gandhi scions – Rahul and Priyanka – besides party chief Mallikarjun Kharge, heaping praises in his tweets.

 After meeting Rahul and Priyanka, he tweeted: “Met my Mentor Rahul ji and Friend, Philosopher, Guide Priyanka ji in New Delhi Today. You can jail me, intimidate me, Block all my financial accounts but My commitment for Punjab and My leaders will neither flinch nor back an inch !!

He also called on Kharge and tweeted: “9 Times MLA, Thrice Member Parliament, Champion for the cause of the underprivileged, voice of truth….. “Credibility thy name is Mallikarjun Kharge. Met and took blessings of Hon’ble Congress President, he brings positive vibes and good fortune for the party’’.

 Besides, he also called on party general secretary K C Venugopal and tweeted: “A conversation with a wise Man is worth Months of Education’’ …. Pillar of Strength to the organisation, Wise Council to The Party @kcvenugopalmp’’.

Sidhu, a stuntman: AAP

Meanwhile, terming Sidhu as a stuntman, the AAP said that he was coming out of jail after serving his sentence for killing an elderly person, not after fighting for freedom.

The party chief spokesperson Malwinder Singh Kang alleged Sidhu has always been a loquacious person and he will remain the same. An elderly person had lost his life because of him, rather than giving statements he should introspect about that.

He added that after serving the punishment for his crimes, he should be a little humble, but he is the same Navjot Singh Sidhu, big words from day one. By making personal remarks on the chief minister, he proved that he still hasn’t grabbed the reality that Bhagwant Mann is elected CM of three crore Punjabis. 

Kang said that Sidhu needs to rest. “We understand that when someone comes after spending so long in a place like jail, he needs some stability, he needs peace’’, Kang added.