Sidhu shadow haunts BJP ahead of Punjab elections (News Analysis)

Chandigarh, Feb 8 (IANS) Having sidelined its most popular political face, cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu, the BJP in Punjab seems undecided on its own future political course as the state heads for crucial assembly polls in about a year’s time.

Having been piggy-back in power with the Shiromani Akali Dal since 2007, the BJP, fresh from its triumph from the May 2014 general elections, had started showing signs in Punjab of breaking its shackles with the Akalis and even going all on its own in the next assembly elections.

However, the embarrassing reverses suffered by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the Delhi and Bihar assembly polls changed things for the party, which has not only been lying low for the past few months but has resigned itself to playing second fiddle to the Akali Dal.

The state BJP leadership, which had started giving indications of either breaking up with the Akali Dal or, at least, have an equal share of seats in the elections for the 117-member assembly, is not making any noises.

As Punjab’s political scene heats up, the talk is all about a triangular fight between the ruling Akali Dal, the main opposition Congress and the new entrant – the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). No one is even mentioning the BJP anywhere.

The problem for the BJP in Punjab is that it is led by a bunch of leaders who have little or no standing in state politics, leave alone having any recognition at the national level. BJP president Amit Shah met some of them on Saturday to get feedback on the BJP’s future course in the state.

The party leadership, in the past few years, deliberately chose to ignore and even embarrass its best known face, Navjot Singh Sidhu, who was elected on the party ticket as MP of Amritsar thrice (2004, 2007 bypoll and 2009). In the 2014 general elections, the BJP dumped Sidhu and fielded Arun Jaitley, now the finance minister in the Narendra Modi government.

Jaitley, pitted against Congress stalwart and former Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh, lost badly – by a margin of over 100,000 votes. This was Jaitley’s maiden foray into popular electoral politics and he started with a big loss.

Sidhu, upset with his party, refused to even enter Amritsar during the entire Jaitley campaign. But the wily Sidhu was in Amritsar just a day after the voting took place.

A popular Jat-Sikh face, Sidhu paid the price for his run-ins with Punjab’s dominant Badal family. He had verbal duels with Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, Deputy Chief Minister and Akali Dal president Sukhbir Badal and Sukhbir’s powerful brother-in-law Bikram Majithia. For their own political survival, Punjab BJP leaders chose to push Sidhu to a corner.

In recent months, the political grapevine has been that Sidhu was in talks with the AAP and even the Congress. There has been no strong denial or confirmation of this from any side.

The AAP, which is giving a serious challenge to Punjab’s hitherto two-party (Akali-Congress) option, is looking for a big name to drive its campaign. It was Punjab’s electorate which gave entry to the AAP in the Lok Sabha in the 2014 elections. The party won four seats – all from Punjab.

In the AAP’s scheme of things, Sidhu fits the bill. He is known as an honest and upright political leader, is outspoken, has popular appeal, connects well through speeches and is a Jat-Sikh face – all ingredients for a good chief ministerial candidate. It only depends on him and the AAP whether they want to get together.

(Jaideep Sarin can be contacted at

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