As Navjot Singh Sidhu Walks Out of Jail Today, Is He Still Relevant in Punjab?

'Politics is all about winning people for a common good. He lost too many of them. His language became an issue in itself ahead of assembly polls despite his right intentions.'

Chandigarh: Former Punjab Congress chief Navjot Singh Sidhu, once considered the exact kind of ‘rebel’ that Punjab needed, will walk out of Patiala central jail today after serving almost a year-long sentence in a 35-year-old road rage case. 

The Supreme Court had confirmed his conviction last year in May after which he surrendered before the police. Since then he has been serving his sentence in jail.

The above tweet from his official Twitter handle on Friday afternoon made it public that Sidhu will be released today. Later, Punjab cabinet minister Aman Arora also confirmed it, reported The Indian Express. 

A man of several talents – former cricketer, commentator, television show host, motivational speaker and then a politician – Sidhu often displayed the charisma needed to remain in the media limelight.

But a question everyone must be pondering now is whether Sidhu is still as relevant in Punjab politics as he once claimed he was.

While his conviction had nothing to do with his political conduct, there was one thing common behind his conviction and political downfall – a public display of rage.

While the road rage incident in which a life was lost put him behind bars for a year, his detractors within the Congress have claimed that it is his necessity to have things his way and expressions of indiscipline that led to Congress’s defeat in the Punjab assembly polls last year.

Sidhu’s former colleague in Congress, who asked not to be named, said he threw tantrums, had communication problems and never worked as a team.

“Let’s see how he conducts himself as he walks free,” he added.

And yet, Sidhu had many things to his credit. As the first major political detractor of  Shiromani Akali Dal’s Badal family in recent times, Sidhu put forward a Punjab-centric agenda and gave people hope that it was achievable.  

He was also the man behind the unseating of former Congress leader and Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh in September 2021. To do this, Sidhu focused on the issues for which party was voted to power in the 2017 elections. 

But he fell apart soon after the party ignored him as the replacement and chose a Dalit face, Charanjit Channi.

This led to a full blown tussle within the party, which many believed created the space for the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) to grow and win a historic mandate. 

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, Punjab Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi and PPCC President Navjot Singh Sidhu, during a virtual rally for upcoming Punjab Assembly elections, in Ludhiana, Sunday, Feb. 06, 2022. Photo: PTI

Former Member of Parliament Dharamvir Gandhi told The Wire that one thing no one can question about Sidhu is his “right intention for Punjab and Punjabiyat.”

He wished to address the social and economic problems of Punjab and to strive for corruption-free governance, Gandhi claimed.

“But politics is a tough business. What he lacked was the art of doing the right politics. Politics is all about winning people for a common good. He lost too many of them. His language became an issue in itself ahead of assembly polls despite his right intentions,” said Gandhi.

He said Congress too was at fault as he was not given a leadership role despite his straight agenda.

“The past is in the past now. To say that Sidhu is not relevant today is a big mistake. The kind of situation Punjab is facing today, he is more relevant than ever,” Gandhi said.

He then added, “We need politicians like him who can put forward the agenda of Punjab and take it out from the muck that the state is in right now.”

 Gandhi also hoped that he sticks to the Congress.

Punjab CM Charanjit Singh Channi (in yellow turban) with Punjab Congress chief Navjot Singh Sidhu (green turban). Photo: By arrangement.

Kanwar Sandhu, former AAP MLA and senior journalist, told The Wire that Sidhu needs to start a new chapter for himself as well as for Punjab.

Sandhu said since the AAP government is struggling in several areas, the political vacuum in Punjab is for everyone to see. 

“I hope he is a changed man when he walks out,” Sandhu added.

Sidhu has a long list of detractors both within his party and outside, several of whom think that his relevance in politics was never beyond his celebrity status. Some feel like his propensity to act as a celebrity affected his politics too.

There may be wrangling in Congress after his arrival, with many still hoping that Sidhu does not get the kind of role he seeks for himself.

As unconventional as Sidhu, there are many who will eagerly watch his steps as he steps out of jail today.