Navjot Singh Siddhu, the cricketer turned politician and a vehement critic of the Indian National Congress for several years, justified his decision to join the party saying that no party, by itself, is good or bad.
“No party is good or bad. The same party can be run by bad people, the same party can be run by good people,” he said.
He said he was willing to forget past issues in the interest of the people.
“They’ve been criticizing me. Nitishji has been critizing Laluji. They’ve formed a government. The criteria is helping the people,” Siddhu — known for his quick wit — said.
Siddhu refused to address the thorny issue of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots, evading the question when asked by a TV reporter.
Instead, he spoke about the need to “uplift Punjab” and bring back its “glory”.
“The agenda is very simple, uplift Punjab, get it out of this quagmire. Do it with policy, do it with will power,” he said.
“We have to resurrect Punjab, a Punjab that was known for its glory. We have to restore that pristine glory. It can only happen if there’s an agenda that you follow. If a government can follow an agenda, any problem is solved.”
Siddhu’s move to join the Congress has come as a rude shock to many of his ardent followers, especially from BJP camp. The cricketer has been associated with the BJP for several years.
However, given that the BJP is a junior partner to the local party Shiromani Akali Dal, no BJP leader from the state could aspire to become the chief minister.
Siddhu was reported to have been negotiations with the Aam Aadmi Party as well to lead their campaign in the state.
However, talks failed after it became apparent that party supremo and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal had an eye on the Punjab Chief Minister’s chair as well.
Punjab has, for decades, oscillated between the Congress and the BJP-Akali combine. While the Congress Party’s links to the 1984 anti-Sikh pogrom make it an anathema to a large chunk of Sikh voters in the state, the Akalis have been accused to encouraging corruption and nepotism through their prolonged rule in Punjab as well.
The Congress Party’s chief ministerial candidate Capt Amrinder Singh is seen as a status quo figure and not a dynamic leader. The party could overcome the image deficit by projecting Siddhu has its candidate, but for now, the ex-cricketer is pointing to Singh as the leader of the camp.
The electorate is reported to be on the lookout for a fresh alternative beyond the BJP and Congress, and the Aam Aadmi Party was seen as a very strong contender about three months ago. However, internal tussles and controversies have dampened its chances to emerge as a reliable and clean alternative.
For now, the Punjab electorate look poised to elect a ‘hung’ assembly where none of the three fronts will have the required numbers to form a government by itself.
While an AAP-INC coalition would seem most likely in case of a hung assembly, the Congress Party is reported to be very wary of repeating the mistake it made in Delhi two years ago in a similar situation.
In 2013, it lent support to the Aam Aadmi Party to form the government, hoping to ‘expose’ the “impracticality” of their policies and the hollowness of its promises. However, Kejriwal, who became the chief minister of Delhi, pulled off a coup by stepping down from the position after 50 days, blaming the BJP and the Congress for blocking the passage of the Jan Lokpal bill.
The AAP swept the subsequent election, winning 67 of the 70 seats and decimating the Congress, which could not win even a single seat. Though Kejriwal is yet to pass the Jan Lokpal bill, he is keen on replacing the INC as the preferred, ‘secular’ alternative to the ‘right wing’ BJP across the country. As such, the Congress, according to reports, is highly unlikely to support the formation of an AAP government in Punjab in case of a hung assembly.