Cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu, known for his good timing with the ball and a quick wit, took too much time to decide before jumping onto the Congress bandwagon. It is his procrastination which is one of the major reasons that cost him the post of deputy Chief Minister, much to the relief of other senior Punjab Congress leaders.
Opposition to Sidhu as Deputy CM
Party insiders say there was intense pressure from the regional senior party leaders, many of whom had returned to the Assembly multiple times, and some had also served as ministers, who expressed their resentment over any move to make Sidhu deputy CM.
They argued before the party high command that giving him the post would highly demoralise the loyal party workers, as he had campaigned only for a fortnight before the elections.
Navjot did make an attempt to seek limelight when he hit the national TV screens, much before Capt Amarinder Singh, after it became clear that the party was forming the government. However, he evaded all questions about the post of deputy CM and said it was a decision to be taken by party Vice President Rahul Gandhi and Capt Amarinder Singh.
Sidhu’s Lack of Administrative Experience
Navjot is undoubtedly popular with the masses, and his entry into the party had provided a boost to the party, but the time was too short for him to gel with other Congress leaders or garner their support. Even from the Majha area, from where he has been elected as an MLA for the first time, there are party MLAs like OP Soni who are enjoying their fifth stint in the Assembly.
Brahm Mohindra, who was sworn-in next to the Chief Minister, and is thus considered number two in the ministry, is a six-time MLA, while former Finance Minister Manpreet Singh Badal is a five-time MLA.
None of the other ministers inducted in the ministry are first-time MLAs like Sidhu. He has, of course, been a three-time Lok Sabha MP and has remained a Rajya Sabha MP for a short term, but he has had no administrative experience.
Capt Amarinder and the Congress high command has undoubtedly gone out of the way to accommodate him in the ministry. He has been inducted in the cabinet, even though more senior and "experienced" legislators, and even the regional considerations were given a go-by.
Like Capt Amarinder Singh, Sidhu is also a jat Sikh belonging to the same place, Patiala, even though he has won from Amritsar. Incidentally the number two in the ministry, Brahm Mohindra also hails from Patiala.
Congress Couldn’t Upset Amarinder
Before finally joining the Congress, Sidhu had tried his luck with the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), and on his own admission, had said that he didn't go with the party because it was not giving him any assurance. It was obvious that he was wanting to be declared the Chief Ministerial candidate of the party.
Even when he was hobnobbing with the Congress high command, it was made clear by his inner circle that he was seeking the post of deputy Chief Minister. However, party Vice President Rahul Gandhi had not made him any promise, but had assured that he would be given a prominent position.
Capt Amarinder Singh, shortly after discussing formation of the ministry with Rahul Gandhi, declared that Navjot would not be taken as deputy CM as "we don't want to have to two power centres". He also said that no assurance was given to Sidhu. Interestingly, Sidhu had said at one stage that he would join the Congress but only if it was "minus Amarinder". However, since the entire Congress campaign was built around him, there was no chance of the party removing him to facilitate Sidhu's entry.
Will Sidhu Hit Back?
For now, Navjot Sidhu appears to have reconciled to his induction as a senior minister in the cabinet. However, this is certainly not the last anyone has heard from him. Given his background and track record, he would certainly look for a "loose ball" to hit a six.
It could be Capt Amarinder Singh's anticipated 'soft' approach towards former minister Bikram Singh Majithia, who was named in a drug case, and is at daggers drawn with Sidhu, or it could be some other issue.
Most political observers think he would strike at an opportune time, but for that he also has to take along a substantial number of MLAs with him. And that's going to take some time.
(The writer is a senior journalist based in Chandigarh. He can be reached @vipinpubby. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)