In the summer of 2013, before the BJP began strategising for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, former Punjab chief minister Rajinder Kaur Bhattal phoned and asked Navjot Singh Sidhu to join the Congress. “Why should you be where you are unhappy?” she asked the BJP politician who is better known as a humorist and former cricketer.
A few days later, former Shiromani Akali Dal leader Manpreet Badal invited him to join his People's Party of Punjab. “He'll be at the right place here, with his views,” Manpreet said later.However, Sidhu, although uncomfortable in the BJP, did not even say a polite “no, thank you”.
On July 18 this year, the former opening batsman, known for his witty one-liners, wrote a staid two-liner; his resignation from the Rajya Sabha. In April, the BJP had nominated him to the upper house at the instance of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Though he has kept mum after the resignation, it is said that he will join the Aam Aadmi Party. With Punjab assembly elections due in March 2017, Sidhu could even become the AAP's chief ministerial candidate. His wife, Navjot Kaur Sidhu, a BJP legislator from Amritsar East, said she admired the AAP style of politics and its convener, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal.
Kejriwal, in one tweet, praised Sidhu's guts for resigning from the Rajya Sabha but, in another, dismissed speculation that he would be the AAP's chief ministerial candidate. By then, some BJP members had put out speeches in which Sidhu had lambasted Kejriwal in the run up to the 2015 Delhi assembly elections. But, Kejriwal might brush aside the videos, saying such criticism is part of election campaigns. The mixed tweets could be a clever ploy on Kejriwal's part to keep everyone guessing, before he finally unveils Sidhu when he wants to.
The Congress has also kept its doors open for Sidhu. State Congress president Captain Amarinder Singh pointed out that Sidhu's father, Bhagwant Singh Sidhu, had been part of the district Congress committee of Patiala.
The Sidhus have a long list of political, official and personal grievances against Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, the Akali Dal and the BJP. Among them is the drying up of funds for the development of Amritsar, the parliamentary constituency Sidhu won thrice. Not only was the concern not addressed, the party ticket from Amritsar, for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, was given to Finance Minister Arun Jaitley.
Though the BJP high command has not commented on Sidhu's exit, on July 19, Akali Dal president Sukhbir Badal said Sidhu would be just one more joker in the AAP pack.
More than his potential role after the assembly elections, it is his magnetic appeal as a campaigner that parties seem to be vying for. He could campaign throughout the country in the run-up to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. And though BJP workers in Amritsar have found Sidhu inaccessible, his star power has ensured massive turnout at rallies.
Sidhu has spoken about wanting to serve Punjab, which seems to suggest that he is seeking the chief minister's post. If the party he joins comes to power, Sidhu could become the national star campaigner, while his wife could get a good cabinet berth. If he joins the AAP, he might be able to return to the Rajya Sabha as the AAP will get three seats in 2018.
On his own website, Sidhu said this about politics: “If you succeed, there are rewards, if you fail, you can always write a book.” But, for a man who juggles events, rallies, studios and stadia almost every day, it may be long before it is time to write.