In a jolt to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and a development that would have ramifications for the Congress in Punjab, cricketer-turned-commentator and TV personality Navjot Singh Sidhu on Monday resigned from the Rajya Sabha. His wife Navjot Kaur, a BJP legislator from Amritsar (East), also resigned from her seat.
The couple is likely to join the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which has been looking for a ‘Jat Sikh’ as its chief ministerial face for the Punjab Assembly polls, due before February 2017.
Sidhu was sent to the Rajya Sabha on April 22 as one of the dozen members that the President nominated on the recommendation of the government. He later opted to join the BJP benches. In the run-up to the reshuffle and expansion of the council of ministers earlier this month, sources in the BJP had talked about Sidhu being considered to be the minister for sports and youth affairs. However, the former cricketer lost out to his Rajya Sabha colleague Vijay Goel.
On Monday, Sidhu turned up in Parliament not in his usual saffron turban — the colour representing the BJP flag — but a yellow one, which has come to signify the supporters of AAP in Punjab.
He then proceeded to resign from his Rajya Sabha seat, which was accepted by Chairman M Hamid Ansari.
Sidhu’s resignation within weeks of his Rajya Sabha nomination is being seen as yet another self-goal by the BJP leadership after the Uttarakhand imbroglio, embarrassment in Arunachal Pradesh and appointment of Subramanian Swamy to the Upper House.
It remained a mystery whether Sidhu had been in talks with AAP before accepting Rajya Sabha membership, or he took the decision because he was not considered for the council of ministers. “At the behest of the Prime Minister, I had accepted the membership of the Rajya Sabha for the welfare of Punjab. It has now turned into a burden. I no longer want to carry it,” Sidhu said after quitting.
Sidhu, 52, and his legislator wife, have consistently criticised the Shiromani Akali Dal.
“With the closure of every window leading to Punjab, the purpose stands defeated… In the war of right or wrong, you can’t afford to be neutral… Punjab’s interest is paramount,” Sidhu said.
He had represented Amritsar in the Lok Sabha in 2004, quitting in 2006 after a court case. Sidhu was not only re-elected in 2007 by-poll but also in 2009 Lok Sabha polls. In 2014 Lok Sabha polls, he vacated the seat for senior BJP leader Arun Jaitley. Jaitley, however, lost to Congress leader Amarinder Singh.
Earlier this year, at the Hindustan Times Summit, AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal had virtually invited Sidhu to join the party. “Our surveys tell us that we will win in Punjab. There has been no discussion on Sidhuji joining the AAP. But if he wishes to come to the party, he is welcome,” Kejriwal had said.
AAP’s Lok Sabha MP from Sangrur constituency, Bhagwant Mann, said Sidhu would be welcome in the party. He said Sidhu was a good orator who had raised his voice against “misrule” of Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) in Punjab.
Ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, Sidhu openly accused the Badal-led government, an ally of the BJP, of discrimination against Amritsar constituency. He even accused the government of diverting funds meant for Amritsar to other regions. He cited newspaper reports about the connections between drug cartels in Punjab and prominent Akali Dal leaders.
When Jaitley, then leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, arrived in Amritsar to file his nomination for the 2014 election, Sidhu was conspicuous by his absence, despite being the incumbent MP. The rest of the BJP and Akali Dal leadership was present in full strength to welcome Jaitley, who had played a mentor to Sidhu in the national politics.
In March this year, when Navjot Kaur met Prime Minister Narendra Modi, she told him that no one was more disrespectful about him than Akali Dal leaders. Most opinion polls have been showing AAP as frontrunner in Punjab.