The Ephemeral Sardar!

He was fairly loved as a cricketer, a right-hand batsman and a part-time medium pace bowler, graduating from the tag of a ‘stroke-less wonder’ during his poor debut to ‘Sixer Sidhu’ in later years; he was the most loved as a commentator and television comedian for his famous one-liners and extempore humorous verses and eulogies; and what he has been as a politician we’ll come back to later on. Yes, we’re indeed talking about the gloriously or infamously unpredictable, the compulsively impulsive, the mysteriously ‘principled’, the all-occasion fun-orator, the allegedly inefficient team-builder and the powerhouse of passion, Navjot Singh Sidhu who in fact managed to display all of the emotions in easy abandon like the colors of a rainbow. He has been a Sardar (of the Sikh religion) with an uncanny difference and his continual fight with another Sardar (Captain Amarinder Singh, the former Chief Minister of Punjab) is one of the Indian political classics.


Thanks to his good performances in the domestic circuit of Indian cricket Navjot Singh Sidhu was selected for the national Test team in 1983-84; but his debut was very poor which earned him the tag of a ‘stroke-less wonder’ from a journalist, and was dropped from the team. The Sardar, as usual, showed his emotions, and later claimed in an interview that the tag had entirely changed his cricketing life. Navjot was later recalled to the one-day international (ODI) team and he performed very well in the ICC World Cup-1987, creating a world record of scoring four consecutive half-centuries on debut. He was marked out as a great hitter of sixes, particularly off the spinners, which changed his tag to ‘Sixer Sidhu’. He also earned praise from many international cricket commentators and experts. His cricket career began; however, a career that lasted till 1999 was not without upsets and turmoil thanks to the Sardar’s emotions.


He was recalled to the Test team in 1988 and had relatively successful outings in the New Zealand tour of India, the Indian tour of the West Indies and India’s tour of Pakistan. He was dropped again in 1992 for his poor run with the bat in India’s tours of England and Australia. Navjot was recalled to Team India later that season and the best part of his cricketing career lasted till 1996 when he walked out of a Test Series against England in England complaining of a difference of opinion with the then India Captain Mohammed Azharuddin. The BCCI banned him for the next ten Tests as a punitive measure. This episode somewhat confirmed his inability to get on with a team or in team-building. Sidhu made his way back to Team India in the 1996-97 tour of the West Indies where his only double century earned the unique distinction of being one of the slowest innings in the history of world cricket. After a poor performance in India’s New Zealand tour of 1998-99 Sidhu was dropped again for the upcoming tour of Pakistan, and the Sardar announced his retirement from all forms of cricket in 1999. In all, he played 51 Tests with 9 tons including a double ton and 136 ODIs.


In the meanwhile, the tempestuous Sardar was involved in a road-rage incident in December 1988 when he hit a senior citizen on the head who later died in the hospital. This homicide case dragged on till 1999 when a trial court acquitted him of murder charges; but in 2006 the Punjab High Court reversed the order convicting him and his associate guilty of culpable homicide. Sidhu and the associate appealed in the Supreme Court, and the Apex Court stayed the order in 2007. Finally Navjot Singh Sidhu was acquitted of culpable homicide in 2018 by the Supreme Court, but the court still convicted him of ‘causing a hurt’, and fined him without, fortunately, ordering a jail term.

After retiring from an eventful cricket career Sidhu became a cricket commentator, a television personality and a politician in the span of the next 4-5 years. His cricket commentator career was cut short abruptly as he got fired by the sports channel for swearing live on air, although his one-liners on air made him an extremely popular commentator. Navjot, however, continued as a cricket expert in various new channels and renewed his contract with the same sports channel in 2012, but due to contractual dispute it ended in 2014 during the IPL. In the region of television he started appearing as a judge in the Great Indian Laughter Challenge (2005-2008) and also acted in various television programs. He had been a permanent guest in the most popular shows of Comedy Nights With Kapil (2013-16) and The Kapil Sharma Show (2016-2019). He was ousted from the latter show due to his alleged pro-Pakistan remarks on the show and his closeness in to the new Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan who was once the most loved fast bowler in international cricket and other Pak army dignitaries that created a national outrage.


The political career of Navjot Singh Sidhu also began in 2004 when he joined the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and won the General Elections of 2004 from Amritsar, his favorite constituency. But he had to resign from the Member of Parliament (MP) position due to the reversal of his homicide case. However, Sidhu fought again in a by-election immediately after the Supreme Court stay and won. In the General Elections of 2009 Sidhu won again on the BJP ticket. In 2014 General Elections he refused to fight as he was not given the ticket from Amritsar. To keep him in the party the BJP nominated Sidhu as a Rajya Sabha (the upper house of Parliament) member. The unpredictable Sardar took the oath in April 2016 and resigned in July the same year. After attempting to form his own political party Sidhu joined the Indian National Congress party in January 2017. He was given the Amritsar constituency in the Punjab Assembly Elections of 2017 which he won with thundering majority and became the Tourism Minister in the cabinet formed by Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh.


It is hardly possible for the ephemeral Sardar to stay put in a particular position. Losing his television job, hurt by the Captain’s direct opposition to his Pakistan links and the snub by the Election Commission in the campaign for the General Elections 2019 Sidhu started his lasting fight with the Chief Minister and resigned from cabinet, addressing his resignation letter to the Congress high command. The seemingly dormant volcano in Sidhu erupted and he started attacking the Captain’s government openly. Finally, the Congress high command, considering his popularity in various sections of the state and the forthcoming elections, had to bow down to his wishes, and Sidhu was appointed the Congress president of the state on 18th July 2021. Now in power, he began to garner support from the Congress MLAs (Members of Legislative Assembly) for himself. The happenings hurt the 79-year-old Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh so much that he tendered his resignation on 20th September 2021 putting the state in a crisis just four months ahead of Assembly elections-2022.


Under Sidhu’s supervision a new Chief Minister was appointed by the Congress high command who was a Dalit which happened for the first time in the state, and two Deputy CMs. The unpredictable Sardar seemed to be happy as he was seen around the new CM. But all hell broke loose when Sidhu resigned from his Congress president post on 28th September 2021 placing the Congress high command in an unprecedented dilemma. Sidhu reportedly was not happy with the two Deputy Chief Ministers and that a few of the new ministers were not his choices. He said that he is fighting for the state’s future and there could be no compromise with that having also said that he would continue to serve Congress. Protesting voices against Sidhu were heard within the Punjab Congress as they could not accept someone opposing a government led by a Dalit for the first time.


Hurt and saddened, the former CM Captain Amarinder Singh met the India Home Minister Amit Shah and said to media that he would leave Congress definitely, but would not join the BJP. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) supremo and Delhi Chief Minister Arving Kejriwal also did not reveal his cards about the likelihood of Navjot Singh Sidhu joining his party. And as is usual, nobody can predict the next moves of the unpredictable Sardar. As per latest reports Sidhu today met the new Chief Minister Channi with the latter announcing that all issues were resolved. It has to be seen how this crisis is going to conclude, if at all, with four months left for the elections. At the moment the Congress party that has always won assembly elections in Punjab is at a total loss, and the BJP that has never won there is at an advantage to stage a maiden victory.


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