Manish Tiwari | Chandigarh
Which Captain are you talking about? Oh, Capt Amarinder! He is a Captain of the Army. My Captain is Rahul Gandhi.” Navjot Singh Sidhu was quite confident when he made these remarks during a press conference in Hyderabad soon after his return from Pakistan last week. Had Rahul not been his Captain, by now he would have been out of the Amarinder Singh Cabinet.
I am not an expert in reading body language, but the statements of some of Sidhu’s Cabinet colleagues did point to the “contempt” with which he referred to Chief Minister Capt Amarinder in Hyderabad. They also felt that it’s an act of open defiance and an attempt to challenge the Captain’s supremacy.
In normal course, this would have been enough ground to sack the minister, for no minister can or should stay in the Cabinet against the wishes of his own Chief Minister. Sidhu, however, is continuing and will continue to be a part of Punjab’s Council of Ministers, despite Capt Amarinder not being his “Captain”.
The CM’s confidantes were quick to ask Sidhu to either apologise or quit, but we all know nothing much will happen. On his part, Capt Amarinder asked his Cabinet colleagues to exercise restraint and not to speak against the Local Bodies minister.
What transpired between the CM and Sidhu’s “Captain” is anybody’s guess, but there is common perception that the party high command has always thrived on its design of “divide-and-rule” and destroyed the leaderships in States by encouraging disgruntled elements to show to the Gandhi family their “more loyal than the king” approach. Not just the high command but even some disgruntled elements within the Punjab Congress could be rallying behind Sidhu who some foresee as a “parallel power centre” in the days to come.
Punjab has witnessed several onslaughts on Capt Amarinder. It’s another matter though that after failing to unsettle the Captain in 2003, Bhattal herself settled for the post of the Deputy Chief Minister, leaving the “loyalist legislators” in the lurch. So, is the cricketer-turned-politician, too, going the Bhattal way?
So far, the Captain has survived the attacks, including those from Rahul Gandhi’s Congress and its high command culture, which did not allow him to settle down for years. However, after his victory in the 2017 polls, which was clearly Capt Amarinder’s victory and not that of the Congress, he has had a smooth sailing for almost two years now. But once again, attempts are being made to unsettle him in the State politics.
He knows full well that today, he exists in Punjab politics not because of the party but due to his own persona and mass appeal. The manner in which Capt Amarinder has conducted himself in the past few years, despite several odds against him, shows that he has covered a lot of ground and he’s here to stay.
Sidhu’s recent visits to Pakistan and the “pat on his back” by some senior leaders in the party high command may have fired his imagination and fuelled ambition, but he would know that Indian politics is a bit different, and is not at the mercy of an Army or its chief. At the same time, we cannot gloss over the fact how Sidhu was inducted in the Congress and taken into the Punjab Cabinet despite reservations from the top leadership. It made clear that he is Rahul’s man and does have the support of “his Captain”.
His twin visits to Pakistan and courting controversies — first by hugging the Pak’s Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa and later visiting our hostile neighbour against the advice of Capt Amarinder, where his cricket-time friend-turned-Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan heaping praises on Sidhu, saying “he has such a large fan following in Pakistan, especially in the country’s Punjab province that if he ran in elections here, he would win hands down”, has, undoubtedly, raised his political stature. This may also be the reason behind his “Captain” jibe.
However, there’s a lesson for those in the Congress — If you push too hard, you only go backwards. So, better wait for your turn rather than losing the turf, the face and the political race!