The hard way
The Navjot Singh Sidhu saga in Punjab, while being a sordid commentary on the state of affairs in India's grand old Congress party, was always a disaster in waiting. The former international cricketer's Tuesday resignation as the Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee (PPCC) president is bound to rattle the party and raise several pertinent questions about the wisdom behind his appointment to the post barely a couple of months ago. The 57-year-old Sixer Sidhu — a moniker given to him due to his ability to hit the ball out of the ground during his career in sports — has been anything but a stable man. Post-retirement from cricket, he drifted closer to the Bharatiya Janata Party and due to his oratory skills, Sidhu became an instant star campaigner for the party. BJP rewarded him with a nomination from Amritsar parliamentary seat in 2004 and he recorded a hattrick of victories from the seat. One has to view Sidhu's career post-2014 denial of nomination by the BJP to understand how unstable he is, an accusation repeatedly hurled by his bete noire in Punjab Congress — the former chief minister Capt. Amarinder Singh who was shown the door rather ignominiously recently under Sidhu's pressure. Denial of nomination is part and parcel of the democratic setup. BJP had to do it under the duress of its then ally, Shiromani Akali Dal. Instantly, Sixer Sidhu became Sulking Sidhu, did not campaign for BJP resulting in the defeat of its stalwart Arun Jaitley. BJP more than adequately compensated him by sending him to the Rajya Sabha in 2016. However, within two and a half months, he resigned from Rajya Sabha and quit the BJP. He set up his own political outfit only to dismantle it within months. He is also believed to have finalised a deal with Aam Aadmi Party which was ready to project him as the party's chief ministerial face in the 2017 Punjab polls. However, he opted to join Congress instead. He opted to quit as a minister in Punjab within two years due to differences with Amarinder Singh and had been gunning for him ever since. All through, he was more vocal and critical of the government than the opposition. With Punjab polls round the corner, Sidhu started throwing tantrums. The party accepted all his demands including naming him the state unit president and his close associate Charanjit Singh Channi as the new Punjab chief minister. In the process, the party sacrificed two stalwarts in Sunil Jakhar and Capt. Amarinder Singh merely to satisfy Sidhu's inflated ego in the hope that he would start wielding the magic band and ensure the Congress party's victory. However, Channi's apparent defiance and refusal to act as a puppet of Sidhu resulted in Sidhu's resignation, which is yet to be accepted though. Questions are bound to be raised about the hurry and wisdom of the Congress party to identify an import as its future in a key state. Other parties have a policy of giving a cooling-off period to enable a new entrant from a rival party to get assimilated into the party, with its ideology and culture. For example, Himanta Biswa Sarma, an import from the Congress party in Assam, had to wait for five years before BJP made him the state chief minister this time around. Hopefully, the Congress party has learnt its lessons, though the harder way, that the rush showed in Sidhu's case was uncalled for. Sidhu by now may have caused more harm to the party than the expected good since the Punjab outcome will have a direct bearing on the 2024 general elections, so crucial for the Congress party and its future.