Has Navjot Sidhu slayed the dragon of Punjab politics?

Punjab Congress has a new leader in Navjot Singh Sidhu, sidestepping chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh. What happens next?

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Navjot Singh Sidhu
By Harjeshwar Pal Singh | OPINION |

It is game, set and match for Navjot Singh Sidhu in his slugfest against Captain Amarinder Singh.

Despite Amarinder using every arrow in his quiver against Sidhu — from blatant blackmailing to using the Hindu card and invoking national security — Captain has been fairly and squarely beaten in this fight for supremacy in Punjab Congress. Sidhu is the president and all four nominees as working presidents are high command appointees, despite vehement opposition by Amarinder.

For all practical purposes, Captain Amarinder Singh is now a lame duck chief minister (CM) of Punjab.

Sidhu has indeed slayed a dragon of Punjab politics.

Captain Amarinder Singh was the first true mass leader of Congress in Punjab who had ended the careers of the likes of Shamsher Singh Dullo, Rajinder Kaur Bhattal, Jagmeet and Partap Singh Bajwa [all former presidents of Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee or PPCC] in his 24 years hegemony of Punjab Congress.

To beat him at his own game, when he was an all powerful CM and an all India icon by Navjot and his pal Pargat Singh virtually alone, is a massive achievement. It is surely now an end of an era.

NAVJOT SIDHU

Navjot Sidhu is the 1,000 pound gorilla in Punjab politics. Despite his manifest weaknesses — elite politics, narcissism and frequent party hopping he remains one politician who inspires both classes and the masses.

He is considered by many as the engine who can drag any collection of bogies past the finish line in Punjab politics. His bold and persistent duels with the Badals and Captain Amarinder Singh strikes a chord among Punjabi’s yearning for a change from the ruling 75-25 clique of Punjab politics.

His public career as one of India’s finest cricketers, commentators and entertainers endears him to a generation of Indian public. As a meritocratic elite in a society of feudal privileges, he strikes a chord among the middle classes. His incorruptible image and as an “insider outsider” makes him a hero in public eyes.

Navjot Singh Sidhu appointed Punjab Congress chief amid escalating tension

Amid the escalating tension within the Punjab Congress and putting days of speculation to rest, former minister Navjot Singh Sidhu was appointed the Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee chief on Sunday (18 July). Congress also appointed four working presidents for the Punjab unit — Sangat Singh Gilzian, Sukhwinder Singh Danny, Pawan Goel and Kuljit Singh Nagra. – The Indian Express (19 July 2021)

His Jatt Sikh origins with a sanatan lifestyle makes him a symbol of Punjabi syncretism. His stand for Kartarpur corridor and justice for beadabi endears him to the Sikh masses.

His bold attacks on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Yogi and willingness to suffer for that endears him to Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi who compares it with the pusillanimity of other congressmen.

His mesmerising oratory, fluency in three language, incorruptible image and raising of pro people issues makes him a rare Punjab politician on whom people still have faith in an age when politicians are less lauded and more chased in paddy fields.

That CM Amarinder Singh, a titan of Punjab politics, has to throw a veritable sink of “Hindu anxiety”, “national security” and “blatant political blackmail“ to thwart his fellow Patialvi shows his desperation in this box office congress saga of upmanship.

However, despite his many accomplishments, his administrative inexperience, lack of team work, narcissism and elitism remains Navjot’s achilles heel.

If he is able to overcome these handicaps he has the ability to write a new chapter in Punjab’s history. Otherwise, he will go down as one of the many shooting stars of Punjab politics like Jagmeet Brar who briefly shone brightest before crumbling to dust.

PARGAT SINGH

Most Indians above 40 will remember Pargat Singh as the only world class hockey player of India between mid-80s and mid-90s .

Even as India rapidly declined as a world beating hockey playing nation after 1980, Pargat was India’s Maldini and Messi rolled into one. As a fullback, no one would get past him, not even the legendary Shahbaz of Pakistan.

As a forward he could dribble past entire teams to score a goal like he did famously against Germany and Holland in the 1985 and 1986 Champions trophies.

In his new avtaar as a political player, Pargat has been an able ally of the mercurial Navjot Sidhu. Pargat openly supported and defended him when the whole Captain-led Punjab congress was gunning for Sidhu’s blood, post 2019 Lok Sabha elections. He led a one man charge on Captain within Congress by raising issues of Punjab including mafia, electricity and Beadabi when Sidhu was forced to endure a political “Banvaas”. He did not blink and stood up to the bullying of Captain and his henchmen.

Confident, Courageous, modest and a quintessential team player, Pargat is an ideal foil to the much more flamboyant and mercurial Sidhu.

Their ascent to the top of Punjab Congress hierarchy is not only a generational shift in the party but also a change towards merit and talent from an era of feudals and family in Punjab politics.

Harjeshwar Pal Singh is an assistant professor at Sri Guru Gobind Singh College, Chandigarh, where he teaches history. He is an avid political commentator.

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