Navjot Singh Sidhu has done it again.
Two decades ago, in 1996, he left the tour of England half way and came back home. It was akin to showing the middle finger to then captain of the team, Mohammad Azharuddin. Apparently, Sidhu wasn’t willing to take any insults, perceived or real, from his captain.
This was, perhaps, the most audacious value ever put by an Indian cricketer to his self-esteem. A place in the Indian cricket team was no less coveted then.
But Sidhu was, and obviously continues to be, made of a different mettle.
This time, he threw away his Rajya Sabha membership that many a wannabe live for. The reason why he did that was somewhat similar to what happened in 1996.
A man who won three consecutive elections to the Lok Sabha from Amritsar was no stranger to Parliament or to popular adulation. In the 2009 election, he bucked the trend and thanks to him, Amritsar turned out to be the only Lok Sabha seat in Punjab that the Congress lost, to the BJP.
Adored as an aggressive opener batsman, he was not only a winner in every election he fought for the BJP, but also a much sought after campaigner for the party, across the country.
In Punjab, particularly, he was like a steroid-shot for the BJP. The founding leaders of the party, like Yagyadutt Sharma and Balramjidas Tandon, were ageing and fading away. The party was not only faced with a huge leadership deficit, it was also struggling to emerge from the narrow confines of its urban Hindu identity.
Meanwhile, an aggressive Akali Dal had cut the BJP down to size by confining it to only 23 Assembly seats, instead of the 35 that the BJP would earlier fight in the alliance. In addition, the Akalis had raised their own cadres and leaders among the urban Hindus to minimise their dependence on the BJP.
Some leaders in the BJP were, often, too willing to help the Akalis by cutting their personal deals with them as “prabharis”, obviously at the cost of their own party. Even as the Akalis were nibbling away at BJP’s base, they themselves were changing, rather rapidly, from a multi-leader Akali Dal to a family-controlled “Badal” Dal.
Suffering such incessant and all around corrosion, in Sidhu, the BJP found a youthful and popular icon whose appeal cut across traditional identities. Being a Jat Sikh, he could take the battle for popularity deep into the Akali domain of Sikh peasantry with as much ease as he connected with the urban youth, across the, somewhat overemphasised, Hindu-Sikh divide.
It was Sidhu’s unmatched electoral appeal that made the Akalis in general and the NextGen Badals in particular, jittery. The younger Badals, having sorted out the more competent and equally eager cousins much before the previous Assembly polls, had now BJP’s Sidhu in their sight.
The much unexpected and adroitly “engineered” win for the Akalis in the 2012 Assembly polls, gaining more seats despite polling fewer votes than the previous polls, came in handy. As the popular MP from Amritsar began to be thwarted by the state government run by the allies themselves, it grew progressively painful for him.
Several complaints to the “leader”, who also happened to have ushered Sidhu into politics, were glossed over by the “leader”. The humiliation grew. So did his leader’s complete and absolute indifference towards him.
“Statecraft” dictated that the “leader” value his privileged relationship with the Badals, irrespective of the Badals’ treatment of the local BJP in Punjab. A point came when Sidhu was threatened and told that he will no longer represent Amritsar. The humiliation was complete when the threat was made good in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.
Siddhu still campaigned hard for the Modi Sarkar. He addressed several rallies in Gujarat. But despite desperate pleas, he doggedly avoided campaigning in Punjab in general and Amritsar in particular. Punjab defied the nationwide trend and delivered suboptimal results for the BJP and its allies.
Worse still, Punjab turned out to be the only state where AAP won Lok Sabha seats, and that too, as many as four. The Congress, humiliated across the country and in almost all major cities, salvaged some honour as it swept the top three cities in Punjab.
Punjab also delivered the most painful of the results for the BJP, in Amritsar. To the average Punjabi, Sidhu was the only one in the BJP who was seen to be standing up to the overbearing Akalis. Through the results, it was as if his humiliation and tribulations were, finally, avenged by his own constituents.
The BJP still wasn’t willing to acknowledge any lessons. Instead, it chose to steadily walk into the swamp of irrelevance and electoral rout. The past two years have been spent by the party defying all calls for any review or course correction.
It took the party almost 20 months to throw a crumb at Sidhu, without a semblance of any meaningful role for him. A serious caveat was indeed put in place though. The caveat that Sidhu would stay away from Punjab.
For a self-respecting “No if no but, Sidhu the Jutt”, this was perhaps adding insult to injury. And, he responded with what he knows best and has done always when cornered – reached out for his proverbial middle finger.
It is futile to argue that Sidhu has made a fool of himself by taking all those decisions that cannot be described as anything but rash. He may, indeed, have lost some fine opportunities to navigate himself higher and farther in politics. He may even have dented his own credibility in the process.
But just imagine.
After ensuring three consecutive wins in the Lok Sabha, after honing him for 12 years in relentless campaigns across the country, after deploying huge amount of time, effort and resources in creating a political icon out of a cricketer, after forging an enviable electoral weapon that is dreaded by your opponents, if you gift-wrap it all and offer it on a platter to the same Congress who you wanted to rid India of, whose loss is it, in all honesty, Mr Statecraft?