Will Navjot Sidhu’s Googly to Captain Ensure a ‘Fastway’ to Top?
Verbose Sidhu is letting out his political ambitions in the open, as seems keen to take over from Capt Amarinder.
Why has minister Navjot Singh Sidhu been taking potshots at chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh in Punjab? We know the ‘how’.
The ruse: His long-time tirade against the Badals of the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) that ruled Punjab for 10 years in alliance with his former party, the BJP, before losing power to the Congress this year.
The tool: Fighting the “illegal” monopoly of the state’s cable TV business by Fastway Transmissions, a company allegedly patronised by SAD boss and former deputy CM Sukhbir Singh Badal.
The upfront allegation: Fastway underpaid or evaded taxes of “at least Rs 2,300 crore”, said a former excise and taxation officer presented by Sidhu for evidence at a recent press conference. “It’s just the tip of the iceberg,” Sidhu said.
The dig: Sidhu said his department, local bodies, will issue notices to Fastway for laying its fibre-optic network underground “without paying the dues”. Also, he has written to other departments concerned to take action against Fastway. “Guru! Eh mehkama CM saabkolhai. Je mere kolhunda, taan main tang dene sisaare (That department is with the CM. If it was with me, I would have hung the guilty upside down)!” he said at the press conference.
Now that’s how an opening batsman bowls a doosra!
Sidhu addressing a press conference on the irregularities by Fastway Cable Networks Pvt Ltd.
Why Is Sidhu Trying So Hard to Outshine Amarinder?
In popular memory, gone are the days when Sidhu formed a group, Awaaz-e-Punjab or Voice of Punjab, with former hockey captain-turned-politician Pargat Singh and two Akalis-turned-freelancers Bains brothers from Ludhiana, to strike the best deal before the assembly polls.
Many also thought gone are the days when he fancied the CM’s chair in a deal with the AAP that fell victim to egos.
He had formed the group as he quit the BJP barely months after accepting a Rajya Sabha seat. Sidhu wanted more.
Pargat Singh was unhappy with Sukhbir Badal. And the Bains brothers – Balwinder Singh and Simarjeet Singh – wanted to punch above their weight. No wonder, then, that the Bains brothers ended up aligning their Lok Insaaf Party with the AAP.
Pargat entered the Congress and then did Sidhu, whose wife – a former MLA who is quite a personality herself, but is often used as proxy by him to say things that he won’t want to be seen saying – had declared Amarinder as “part of the problem” along with the Akalis. Amarinder, too, had dismissed Sidhu’s group as “tonga party”.
Is it because Sidhu – who has transformed from a cricketer to a three-time Lok Sabha MP and now a minister in the Amarinder government, mostly thanks to his oratorical skills – loves talking and thrives on attention? That would be simplistic. Sidhu is a man with a plan, apparently.
The ‘Other’ Badal
Amarinder had already declared that this was to be his last election. He is retiring to his other world of military history writing after this term as CM. Who will claim the throne after the scion of the erstwhile royalty of Patiala walks away, if he indeed does?
The two clear contenders are Sidhu and the ‘other’ Badal.
State Finance Minister Manpreet Singh Badal is a man of refined taste. His choice of couplets and quotes, from Faiz to Ghalib to Greek scholars, is quite different from Sidhuisms.
But his anti-Akali-Badal credentials are strong. He had left his uncle Parkash Singh Badal’s party and cabinet after a tiff apparently with cousin Sukhbir in 2011.
For public consumption, the tiff was over his call for rationalising farm subsidy, including the free power that Badal Sr saw as his trump card. (He has since backpedaled on that issue: More on that some other day.)
Sidhu’s Game Plan
- Sidhu is known to be a hard-nosed politician be it
forming Awaaz-e-Punjab, veering towards AAP or joining Congress.
- Lashing out at Badal-owned cable network company,
Fastway, aimed to claim moral ground before public.
- Apart from Sidhu, Manpreet Badal also in the race to
take over charge after Amarinder retires.
- Though Sidhu’s case against Fastway based on claims by
a whistleblower and will need documentary evidence.
- It remains to be seen whether people of Punjab
struggling with problems like drug addiction will fall for Sidhu’s
Reaping Political Dividends by Badal-Bashing
Manpreet formed a party that got no seats in the 2012 polls; fought a close fight with Sukhbir’s wife in the Lok Sabha polls in 2014 on a Congress ticket; and finally merged into the Grand Old Party before the 2017 assembly polls.
The two men have a similarity. Both once saw a father figure in Parkash Singh Badal, and both were “set to” hop onto the AAP ship at some point, but wanted to be leaders, not Kejriwal acolytes. Their decisions have paid off as the AAP finished a distant second. What now?
Five years is a long time in politics, but planning holds key. In that, the AAP seems down and out. And the Akalis remain Punjab’s favourite enemy so far.
Sidhu has taken the Fastway route to Badal-bashing even though Amarinder has said he would not indulge in “political vendetta”. The CM has been saying that he would “act against anyone who is found guilty” without taking names after coming to power. The Captain claims to have learnt a lesson from his last term.
Manpreet, sadly, lost his thunder to CM Amarinder after the latter announced flagship schemes and moves – including a crop loan waiver – a day before Manpreet would present the budget. He is lately seen taking uncharacteristic digs at Sukhbir Badal.
But Sidhu is more efficient and relentless in his pursuit. A man once hailed as a “strokeless wonder” seems to have got hold of a masterstroke.
He has been trying to add civility to his naked ambition with words like:
Actually CM saab, having 40 departments with him, remains so busy that he cannot go in deep to check each detail of all of the departmentsNavjot Singh Sidhu, Punjab Tourism and Local Bodies Minister
Does that mean the CM is being led/misled by his departments’ babus? Does that mean the CM is too busy to handle his work? Or, is that to suggest that the CM should devolve more of his power?
Will the People of Punjab Pick Sidhu’s Bait?
Prima facie, Sidhu’s case against Fastway is built more on claims and less on documentary evidence. It remains to be seen if he carries this through and manages to build such a watertight case that the CM is forced to act. Either way, Sidhu achieves what he wants to: Claim that he led the attack and got the CM to act.
In this entire image exercise, Sidhu seems to have forgotten an important lesson from the elections that made him a minister. The voter does not like chest-thumping and over-ambition when Punjab is saddled with problems that threaten its very core.
The drug menace eating into its much macho-ised youth is only one of those problems. The AAP learnt that the hard way. Sidhu was lucky to avoid the AAP suicide, but does not seem to have learnt that key lesson.
Or, maybe, just maybe, he has consulted an astrologer who knows better than political analysts. He seems to know his stars.
(The author Harish C is a Chandigarh-based journalist. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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