In a major jolt to the BJP ahead of the Punjab assembly elections, cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu on Monday resigned from the Rajya Sabha and hit out at the party, claiming it was preventing him from working for the state's welfare.
Sidhu, who is likely to officially announce his future course of action in a day or two, but is all set to join the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and become its chief ministerial candidate for Punjab where assembly elections is due early next year.
Choosing the very first day of the monsoon session to resign, he went in person to meet Rajya Sabha Chairman Hamid Ansari to tender his resignation. Later, Deputy Chairman P.J. Kurien announced in the house that Sidhu's resignation has been accepted.
The resignation came as a big surprise to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which shares power with the Shiromani Akali Dal in Punjab.
Sidhu, in a statement, indicated his discontent with the BJP, of which he was thrice an elected member of the Lok Sabha and currently a nominated member of the Rajya Sabha, saying: "In the war of right or wrong, you can't afford to be neutral."
Soon after resigning from the Upper House, Sidhu hit out at the BJP, saying the party despite nominating him to the Rajya Sabha had closed his doors in Punjab.
"I had accepted the Rajya Sabha nomination for welfare of Punjab. With closure of every window leading to Punjab, the purpose stands defeated, now a mere burden. I prefer not to carry it," he said.
"In the war of right or wrong, you can't afford to be neutral rather than being self-centred. Punjab's interest is paramount," he added.
Sidhu said he had accepted the Rajya Sabha nomination at the behest of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Though Sidhu is all set to join the AAP, he has not yet resigned from the BJP.
Even, BJP leaders were clueless about Sidhu's move.
However, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and BJP Vice President and incharge of Punjab Prabhat Jha, discussed the situation emerging out after Sidhu's resignation.
Meanwhile, confirming Sidhu's move to join the party, AAP's Punjab convenor Sucha Singh Chhotepur tweeted, "Appreciate Navjot Sidhu and Navjot Kaur Sidhu move, looking forward for their Welcome to @AAPPunjab2017 @AamAadmiParty."
Though AAP leaders in Delhi have officially refused to confirm the development, they have not ruled out the possibility of Sidhu and his wife walking across to the AAP.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said he "salutes" the cricketer-turned-politician for his "courage" in quitting the Rajya Sabha.
"People can give their right hand for an Rajya Sabha seat. Ever seen a sitting RS MP resigning to save his state? I salute Sidhu ji for his courage," he said in a tweet.
AAP leader Sanjay Singh, who is in charge of the party's strategy for the Punjab assembly elections, said that good forces should join hands in Punjab to oppose the land mafia and drug mafia.
"Sidhu is indeed a big force as he played a vital role in the politics of Punjab and also brought laurels to the nation in cricket. He always raised the matters of Punjab credibly at the national and state level, and he and his wife continuously raised their voice against the corruption of the Akalis and the drug menace there," he told a news channel.
"We welcome him," he added.
He, however, said that people will have to wait for a formal announcement in this regard.
Sanjay Singh also said the resignation of the cricketer-turned-politician from the Upper House is seen as a "protest" against the ongoing Akali-BJP dispensation in Punjab.
"All right minded people should join this dharam yudh (righteous battle) against corruption," the he said.
A senior AAP leader, who wished not to be named, said that speculations over Sidhu joining the AAP are "true".
AAP is seen as a contender for power in Punjab.
Sidhu had won the Amritsar Lok Sabha seat in 2009 but did not contest in 2014 when senior BJP leader Arun Jaitley was fielded from there, apparently under Akali Dal pressure. Jaitley lost.
Sidhu has been a steady campaigner for the BJP in elections. He has appeared in popular TV shows and is known for his ready wit and Urdu shairi.