Now, a turf war over Amritsar! (Punjab Newsletter)
The Sikh holy city of Amritsar is known globally for religion and peace, being home to the holiest of Sikh shrines - the Harmandar Sahib (popularly known as Golden Temple). It has now become a political battleground for leading names in Punjab's ruling dispensation.
The turf war is primarily between the chirpy cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), who has held the Amritsar Lok Sabha seat since 2004, and his legislator-wife Navjot Kaur on one side and the powerful Punjab Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal and his equally powerful brother-in-law Bikram Singh Majithia on the other.
Sidhu, who remained "missing" from his constituency for nearly eight months, prompting an NGO to put up his posters around Amritsar, returned last week. His arrival was followed by an outburst against the Punjab government, blaming it for "scuttling" development projects in Amritsar.
Though Sidhu did not take names, it was apparent that his targets were Sukhbir Badal, who is also the Shiromani Akali Dal president, and Majithia, who is Punjab's revenue minister. Majithia belongs to Majitha area in Amritsar district and has considerable influence in the belt.
As the political dust raised by Sidhu's outburst was settling down, Sukhbir Badal landed in Amritsar and announced that the holy city will see a complete makeover by 2016 with a Rs 2,000-crore development plan. He avoided getting into a debate on the issues raised by Sidhu, even though he clarified on some of them.
It is now clear in political circles that the posturing by the two sides has its genesis in the political turf war here. The Akali Dal, which runs a coalition government with the BJP in Punjab since 2007, is showing interest in the Amritsar constituency. The Punjab BJP, which has its own issues with Sidhu, is keeping mum. It is certainly not siding with Sidhu at all.
Sidhu, who won from Amritsar for the first time in 2004 by a thumping margin of over 110,000 votes and dislodged a seven-term MP, scraped through in the 2009 elections with just over 7,000 votes.
"We see him more on TV shows than in the constituency. He has done the vanishing act from here for months together twice. No one wants to take him seriously now," Amritsar resident Balraj Singh said about the celebrity MP.
Seen almost daily on TV shows, mostly laughing uncontrollably, and giving his opinion on cricket shows, Sidhu even participated in the "Big Boss" reality show last year. He has tried to justify his absence from the constituency by saying TV appearances are his "bread and butter" and he cannot survive without them.
Sidhu has been at loggerheads not only with the Akali Dal leadership but also with the Punjab BJP leadership. He has skipped important party meetings and events, some of which were held in his constituency. He has been at loggerheads with the BJP national leadership in recent months after he was not taken aboard as an office bearer.
Given his recent actions, Sidhu's political innings could be headed for a dead end. Years ago, as a cricketer, he may have aabandoned his team midway through a series in England but that is not going to work in public life. The need to work as a team - be it in the party, with the government or with the voters who chose him as an MP - Sidhu desperately needs to reinvent himself if he is to survive in the political jungle.
(Jaideep Sarin can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
(Posted on 13-09-2013)