Chandigarh: Punjab Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal’s grandiose plans for the Sikh holy city of Amritsar and special attention he is paying it is not going unnoticed. But in his scheme of things, there’s nary a place for cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu, the BJP’s Lok Sabha MP from Amritsar.
Badal, who is president of the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal, spent a lot of time earlier this month in Amritsar, visiting sites of various projects, pulling up officers, reviewing projects and schemes and pushing for new ones.
He listed out projects worth nearly Rs.1,700 crore that would be completed within the next two years. He even set deadlines for officers, including a Diwali (Nov 3) deadline for completing a plaza-cum-beautification plan outside the Golden Temple complex.
But the media-savvy Amritsar MP was nowhere in the picture nor did Badal bother to make him a part of all this. The Akali Dal leads Punjab’s ruling coalition, in which the BJP is a junior partner.
Perhaps Sidhu himself is to blame for this.
Sidhu, who often appears as a cricket expert on sports and news channels and is seen laughing uncontrollably on stand-up comedy shows, has been missing from action from his political pitch, Amritsar, for the past few months. This is not the first time that Sidhu has gone “missing”. He had done the vanishing act from his constituency in 2009 when he remained away for a good three months as he was upset with a few BJP leaders.
Sidhu’s wife, Navjot Kaur Sidhu, the BJP legislator from Amritsar-East seat and a chief parliamentary secretary (one rank below a minister) in the Punjab government, made no bones in April when she said that Sidhu was keeping away from Amritsar, and politics, as he felt slighted by BJP leaders.
Sidhu, who has won the Amritsar seat thrice – in 2004, 2006 (by-election) and 2009, does not seem to have a long political future in Amritsar with the Akali Dal already persuading the BJP to leave the seat and take the Patiala Lok Sabha seat instead. (The byelection was caused as Sidhu resigned after the Punjab and Haryana High court handed him a suspended three-year sentence for a road rage death in late 1988. He won a reprieve from the Supreme Court, which stayed the sentence and this enabled him to contest the by-poll.)
Sukhbir Badal’s special attention on Amritsar also stems from the behind-the-scenes moves over the Amritsar seat. His brother-in-law and close confidant Bikram Singh Majithia’s family comes from the Amritsar area.
Majithia and Sidhu have never gelled, given Majithia’s domination of politics in the Amritsar area while completely ignoring and overshadowing Sidhu. With the backing of his all-powerful brother-in-law Sukhbir Badal, Majithia’s clout has only grown in Amritsar and in Punjab. Majithia is the brother of Sukhbir’s Badal’s wife and Bathinda MP Harsimrat Badal.
The attention that Badal is paying to Amritsar these days is not the same as other leading cities in Punjab like Ludhiana, Jalandhar or Patiala get. The only other area that gets a lot of attention from Badal and the Punjab government is Bathinda in southwest Punjab – for obvious reasons.