Sidhu makes only 'guest appearances' at BJP meets

Chandigarh, Oct 4 (IANS) Cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu may be making regular appearances on TV comedy shows and cricket discussions but he seems to be making only guest appearances when it comes to politics or his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

After having remained "missing" for nearly eight months from his Amritsar Lok Sabha seat, which he has been representing since 2004, Sidhu recently not only showed up in his constituency but also attended a couple of BJP events in Chandigarh and New Delhi.

After his return to Amritsar early last month, Sidhu took the battle into the camp of those who were criticizing his politically wayward ways. Within a matter of hours, Sidhu was able to shift the focus from his prolonged absence from Amritsar to the lack of development in his constituency. In doing so, Sidhu blasted the Punjab government run by the Shiromani Akali Dal-BJP alliance.

As the war of words between Sidhu and top Akali Dal leaders intensified, BJP president Rajnath Singh and senior BJP leader Shanta Kumar had to intervene. Sidhu's outburst left Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal peeved and embarrassed and he even refused to meet Sidhu.

Taking a break from laughing uncontrollably on TV comedy shows, Sidhu got down to do some serious political business by first meeting Rajnath Singh in New Delhi and then showing up at a two-day meeting of BJP leaders from Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh held in Chandigarh and addressed by the party president.

At the Chandigarh meeting, Sidhu, who does not have many friends in the Punjab BJP senior leadership, could be seen only hovering around the BJP president. Just three days later, Sidhu announced a fast unto death for Amritsar's development. The move fizzled out after Rajnath Singh and Parkash Singh Badal intervened.

The next public outing for the BJP's Sikh face was the Sep 29 rally addressed by BJP prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi in New Delhi.

BJP insiders say that Sidhu, due to his erratic ways, does not have too many friends within the party. "He thinks he is a star and everyone should fall in line with his antics. Politics does not work that way," a senior Punjab BJP leader said.

Within the Punjab BJP, Sidhu often portrays himself as a national leader and a celebrity. This has not endeared him to many. Sidhu does not get along with the BJP ministers in Punjab either.

Sidhu remains at loggerheads with the Akali Dal too. His run-ins with Akali Dal president Sukhbir Badal, who is the powerful Punjab deputy chief minister, and Bikram Singh Majithia, a powerful cabinet minister and Sukhbir Badal's brother-in-law, have provided political entertainment to many, especially to the delight of the opposition Congress.

Sidhu was conspicuous by his absence when Narendra Modi recently addressed a rally near Pathankot. Even former Gurdaspur BJP MP and film star Vinod Khanna attended the rally. At another BJP state-level meeting in Amritsar in August, Sidhu, who should have been the host for the event, chose to stay away.

Given that his winning margin of over 110,000 votes in the 2004 Lok Sabha polls came down to just over 7,000 in the 2009 elections, Sidhu's cameos in politics do not seem to be helping his image.

(Jaideep Sarin can be contacted at jaideep.s@ians.in)

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