As Arvind Kejriwal takes a train to Punjab, Navjot Singh Sidhu will formally announce a new political front, the Awaaz-e-Punjab, today.
The cricketer-turned-politician decided to go solo after his talks with the Delhi chief minister to join hands for the Punjab elections disintegrated and Mr Sidhu’s new outfit is now seen as a direct threat to Mr Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party in the state.
Mr Sidhu has only five months to set up his front and get it ready for the elections early next year – political observers say that is not enough time to make a serious impact, but he could definitely cut into the votes of the Aam Aadmi Party or AAP, with both making a debut and pitching a change in Punjab, ruled so far either by the Congress or the Akali Dal.
There is buzz that Mr Sidhu could draw the support of AAP’s sacked Punjab chief Succha Singh Chhotepur, whose supporters in the party have rebelled in protest against his removal over allegations of corruption in selecting election candidates.
That rebellion and more allegations of AAP members exploiting women have compelled Mr Kejriwal to pledge more time to electioneering in Punjab, where AAP had won four and its only parliamentary seats two years ago.
Mr Kejriwal said he will now handle selection of candidates himself and will spend the next three days in Punjab. He has also vowed to return after a throat surgery for his chronic cough in Bengaluru this month.
The new Sidhu front was announced last week via a bright poster that featured the 52-year-old commentator with his close friend and former hockey great Pargat Singh, suspended by the Akali Dal, and two brothers from Ludhiana, Balwinder Singh Bains and Simarjeet Singh Bains, both independent lawmakers in the Punjab assembly.
Mr Sidhu walked out of the BJP in July this year, resigning as a nominated member of the Rajya Sabha. For weeks thereafter, he was said to be in talks to join AAP though no side confirmed this till Arvind Kejriwal tweeted last month, seeking to quell rumours, “Would Navjot Sidhu ji join AAP? Lot of rumours? It’s my duty to put forward our side. We have greatest, greatest regard for this cricket legend.”
Their talks failed reportedly because Mr Sidhu wanted to be projected as AAP’s presumptive Chief Minister. He will play that role in his new front.
Mr Sidhu did not consider an offer made by the Congress to join that party. His wife, Navjot Kaur Sidhu, who is still a BJP lawmaker in Punjab, is expected to quit soon too.
Kejriwal mobbed by BJP workers at New Delhi railway station as he departed for Punjab
New Delhi, September 08: Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal was met with protests by workers of BJP’s women wing at the New Delhi railway station as he departed for Punjab earlier today. Police officers scrambled to provide security cover to the AAP leader as BJP women workers jostled around him to get a statement. They urged the chief minister to speak on allegations of party leaders ‘exploiting’ women in return for party tickets in Punjab and the controversy surrounding the blog post of AAP leader Ashutosh on the Sandeep Kumar sex scandal. Kumar, who was a minister in the Delhi cabinet, was removed from the party.
AAP leader Sanjay Singh alleged the protest at the railway station was a ploy by the Delhi Police, which comes under the Home Ministry, to allow BJP workers in harassing Kejriwal. He also asked on Twitter why the same workers did not question actions of former union minister Nihal Chand and Babu Lal.
Kejriwal departed for Ludhiana today to confer with leaders in regard to party tickets for the upcoming state elections in Punjab. The party unit in the state has been beset by major problems especially after its state convenor Sucha Singh Chhotepur was removed following bribery allegations. Kejriwal’s visit to Punjab comes on a day when former BJP leader Navjot Singh Sidhu is expected to announce his political plans with respect to ‘Awaz-e-Punjab’ outfit in Chandigarh.
Kejriwal will be spending the next four days in Punjab, traveling across the state. He is scheduled to visit Patiala, the bastion of Congress leader Amarinder Singh, and address a rally later at Baghpurana. The rally will be the leader’s only public meeting with workers during the tour.