A day when the The Supreme Court has delivered its verdict in a road rage case against him, flamboyant cricketer turned politician Navjot Singh Sidhu was seen riding an elephant during an inflation rally in Patiala. Drama, hyperbole and passion have always come naturally to Sidhu on his journey from cricket and cricket commentary to judging a comedy show, and finally to politics. Once a popular showstopper – first, from the BJP, the party he joined when he entered politics in 2004, then from Congress, the party he switched to in 2016 – Sidhu, or Sidhu paaji as we go fondly calls him, of late took to bat only for himself and Punjab.
While many thought the temperamental Sidhu would give up public life after his defeat of Amritsar East in the Assembly polls, he did the exact opposite. In the run-up to the Supreme Court’s verdict, Sidhu spent two frantic months criss-crossing Punjab, building bridges with people and politicians, both in Congress (mainly former lawmakers also swept away by the electoral tsunami of the ‘AAP) and the ruling party.
It was a departure from the past when his mercurial temper kept most of his fellow lawmakers at bay. Sidhu, who had great success when he first launched an offensive in April 2021 against then Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh, began to lose it when he started targeting the successor to Captain Charanjit Singh Channi. In his frequent outbursts, many saw a person unable to accept being denied the highest position.
Over the past two months, he was regularly accompanied by Congress leaders who claimed their tribe was growing. He also went to meet political strategist Prashant Kishor shortly after the latter turned down Congress’s offer to join the party, calling it a meeting between old friends. There have been whispers of disciplinary action from the high command, with a letter from party official Harish Chaudhry leaked to the media earlier this month. But no action was planned. Instead, Sidhu advised Congress not to let go of former Punjab Pradesh Congress (PPCC) leader Sunil Kumar Jakhar – he joined the BJP on Thursday – who was given a show cause notice. Jakhar, said Sidhu, was worth his weight in gold.
Sidhu also made overtures to the ruling party in the state, calling Chief Minister Bhagwant Singh Mann his younger brother. Last week, May 9, he sat down with Mann and called it “the most constructive 50 minutes.”
Its daily action has puzzled many because there was no election in sight. Still, it was relentless. There was not a day when he did not venture. On April 22, when his successor Amrinder Singh Warring was sworn in as head of the PPCC, Sidhu did not stay for the ceremony because he had to visit the family of farmers who had committed suicide. His daily visits were too frequent to go unnoticed. With both the Shiromani Akali Dal and Congress relatively quiet, and the leaders of AAP demonstrating great care – making sure not to be seen or heard too often – it was Sidhu through.
Whether it’s the failure of the wheat crop, farmer suicides, drug overdose deaths, farmer protests, allegations of police authoritarianism, cases against workers in the Congress or political violence, he was the first to visit the homes of those aggrieved. If he wasn’t traveling across the state, he would tweet his worries about his future or denounce “scams”, constantly questioning the decisions of the Punjab government while providing solutions. “Why doesn’t PUNSEED provide seed to farmers to prevent them from being duped by fake seed sellers? Why aren’t we doing enough to rehabilitate drug addicts? When the verdict was delivered on Thursday, it flagged the issue of the price hike.
While observers started calling him the watchdog of Punjab, Sidhu imagined himself as the messiah. “I am fighting for the resurrection of Punjab, this is what I love to do the most, I want it to regain its lost glory. This is the only goal of my life,” he told this reporter.
The news of his conviction was met with dismay, joy and ridicule in equal measure. Congress leader and former state interior minister Sukhjinder S Randhawa even went so far as to call it good riddance. Sidhu responded gracefully by tweeting, “Will submit to the majesty of the law.”
As one political observer put it: “A year is just a jolt in the life of a politician, it is not yet the curtain for Sidhu. @sherryontop will agree.