Saturday, August 20, 2016

Punjab Elections Gaining Heat
Can Sidhu take the plunge and swim safe to the shore?

As of today, the cricketer-turned-politician and recently an entertainer in comedy shows, Navjot Singh Sidhu has not as yet resigned from BJP though he did from Rajya Sabha for which he was nominated only three months back. Yet, the media has created a hype as if the BJP has lost the electoral cricket match slated in early next year which it was, otherwise, sure to win. It has already put him in the Aam Aadmi Party's kitty and anointed him as its chief ministerial candidate though the AAP anxious to catch a big fish from the other side has, so far, refrained from saying so. Note further. Sidhu too has, so far, not resigned from the Party though his wife has gone on record saying his quitting Rajya Sabha amounts to quitting party.
As is the wont with most of the media, it is only highlighting the huge losses the BJP, in its opinion, is sure to score in the next election with Sidhu campaigning against the Akali-BJP alliance in power for the last about one decade. It is totally ignoring the other side of the story, the negative one of Sidhu, only because that heightens its hype and adds to the sensation.
Needless to recall that Sidhu stands convicted for culpable homicide not amounting to murder and sentenced to three years' jail besides a fine of Rs. One lakh. His appeal is pending in the Supreme Court. He could not have re-contested the 2009 election to Parliament from Amritsar had the eminent lawyer, Arun Jaitley, now Finance Minister in Narendra Modi led NDA government, not successfully pleaded before the court and succeeded in getting his sentence suspended. Sidhu had won in 2004 and repeated his victory in 2009.
It is also a fact that in the last elections to Punjab assembly in 2012 BJP's star campaigner Sidhu did not campaign for the Akali-BJP alliance because he had developed irreconcilable differences with those running the Akali Dal. He wanted the Party to sever the oldest alliance with Akali Dal. Yet it was voted into power with BJP winning a larger number of seats than last time. Yet, his wife was favoured with a ministerial berth in the new government. She too had an uneasy relationship with Akali Dal. She still continues in alliance government.
Sidhu had a perennial fight with Akali Dal holding the latter responsible for lack of development in his Amritsar constituency. On the other hand, Sidhu’s detractors charged him with ignoring the constituency at the cost of taking part in a programme that was popular with the name 'Laughter Challenge'.
In 2014 Parliament elections Sidhu was denied the nomination for the third time and Arun Jaitley was made the BJP candidate. Sidhu did not campaign for Jaitley whom he otherwise publicly accepted as his “mentor”. Even in the Modi wave Jaitley lost not for his own fault but for the sins of both Sidhu and Akali Dal.
Yet, Sidhu was made a Secretary of BJP at the national level. He still remained sulking, more active in Kapil's Comedy Show than in the discharge of his functions as a functionary of the party. The Kapil show did earn him hefty financial dividends  but these left him poor at the political level. In the elections which threw up BJP to power at the Centre for the first time, his showing at the campaign trail was few and far between.
BJP did try to keep the sulking Sidhu in good humour and continued to pamper him one way or the other. His nomination to Rajya Sabha, which he gladly accepted, was one such instance. In his first reaction after taking oath in April 2016, Sidhu said: “The present nomination by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi is significant for me as he is a great role model for me”.  But he did not consult PM before resigning.
After quitting Rajya Sabha on July 18 he said: "At the behest of the honourable PM, I had accepted the Rajya Sabha nomination for the welfare of Punjab. With the closure of every window leading to Punjab the purpose stands defeated. It is now a mere burden. I prefer not to carry it”.
While media is agog with hunches that Sidhu was unhappy at the treatment meted out to him by the party and that he had been ignored for a ministerial berth in the expanded Modi Council of Ministers a fortnight back, he seems to be trying to plunge into the uncertainty of the next year's assembly elections to stage a Kejriwal in Punjab. Otherwise, his political future stands eclipsed. Whether Akali-BJP alliance scores a hat trick or loses power, he will stand to lose in both eventualities.
Even if AAP finally decides to launch him as its chief ministerial candidate, he is not likely to have a smooth sailing. It is fallacious to measure the success of Kapil's comedy show as the barometer for Sidhu's acceptance as a chief minister in Punjab where his political role for the last over five years has been minimal. TV shows can contribute enormously to a person's popularity and financial standing but it is a hard nut to crack in elections. If occasional jumlas and comedy gimmicks in TV shows were to do the trick in parliament or assembly elections, then Kapil should win hands down from any constituency in the country. But that is a false assumption. Raju Srivastava who regaled audiences in a greater measure than Sidhu had a bitter taste of this electoral reality. Raju contested the last UP assembly election on Samajwadi Party ticket. Raju lost while his party won the UP election and formed government.
Further, both Akali Dal and Congress are most likely to throw a gauntlet of challenge for him. Congress chief ministerial candidate may invite him to fight against him from Patiala, Sidhu's home district, to test his popularity. Likewise, Akali Dal may ask him to try his popularity either against the elder Badal or his son Deputy CM Sukhbir Badal. Accepting either of the two challenges from Congress or Akali Dal may boomerang and shying away paint him as a paper tiger. Needless to recall that Kajriwal did challenge the sitting Congress CM Sheila Dikshit in her own constituency in Delhi and did win. But Punjab is not Delhi and Sidhu is not Kejriwal. Can Sidhu take the plunge?                                                                                  (Antaryami)
Courtesy: Uday India weekly (English)

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