New Delhi: Navjot Singh Sidhu, former Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) parliamentarian and cricketer, formally ended all speculation about his political future on Thursday.
Less than six months ahead of the assembly election in Punjab and just a month after he walked out of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Sidhu announced the formation of Awaaz-e-Punjab, a forum for the resurrection and redemption of Punjab.
However, Sidhu maintained that Awaaz-e-Punjab is not a political party but a forum for like-minded Punjabis and he would announce his future course of action in the next 15-20 days.
Though analysts say that launching a political outfit so close to the election may not help Sidhu make the desired impact, it will nonetheless fragment votes which had already been split with the entry of Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in an election which has traditionally been a two-cornered contest.
Reiterating that revival of Punjab was the priority of his party, Sidhu said, “Awaaz-e-Punjab aims to shake the political system which has ruined the state."
Without naming chief minister Parkash Singh Badal and deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal, he said that the present state government was working for the benefit of one family and the next government should work for “Punjab, Punjabiyat and every Punjabi."
“The Constitution says that democracy is for people but the Punjab government has been for one family. Political leaders should be of character and integrity, we don’t need show pieces. Good leaders are being reduced to mute spectators," he said, hitting out at the state government.
Sidhu first contested Lok Sabha elections in 2004 from Amritsar and continued to represent the constituency till he was asked to vacate the seat for finance minister Arun Jaitley during the 2014 Lok Sabha election.
Thereafter his relations with the BJP soured, leading eventually to his recent exit. Expectations were that he would join AAP; his decision to go it on his own will only roil the electoral arithmetic in Punjab.
“The anti-establishment sentiment against SAD-BJP alliance is high while people are also disillusioned with the Congress and were considering AAP as an option. With the entry of Sidhu, who has a good support base in the state, the wavering vote which would have gone to AAP will get split and a section of it will come to Awaaz-e-Punjab," said Ghanshyam Dev, a Punjab-based political analyst and head of the department of political science at DAV College, Chandigarh.
Clearing the air about his resignation from the Rajya Sabha and speculations of him joining AAP, especially after Kejriwal had tweeted about meeting Sidhu, he said, “My Rajya Sabha resignation had nothing to do with Kejriwal. I quit because I was told to stay away from Punjab.How can I stay away from my home state? When I met Kejriwal he said that I should not fight elections and asked me to let my wife contest instead, promising to make her a minister."
To be sure, the cricketer-turned politician had resigned from the Rajya Sabha on 18 July, less than three months after he was nominated to the upper house as a member of the BJP.
Also invoking the rich legacy of Punjab which he said has suffered due the rising drug problem in the state, Sidhu said, “Where is the Punjab that used to produce so many sportsmen? Which used to send soldiers to the army, whose sons won Param Veer Chakras? Punjab was behind the Green Revolution in the country, but where is it now? Today the streets are filled with drug addicts."
The leader also said that there was no space for communal or caste-based polarization in the state.
Analysts were however sceptical about Sidhu’s prospects in the upcoming assembly poll.
“Right from party leadership, to a cadre to finding the right candidates, it is too late to start a party now. However popular a leader might be, canvassing has to start months before an election," he said.