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Love & hate relations
The recent turn of events in the sweet and sour relationship of outgoing Punjab Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh and cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Sidhu is not new. There are numerous such instances in their topsy-turvy relations.
During these years, Sidhu twice descended on the cricket ground on the invite of Capt Amarinder Singh.
And it was during these years that an FIR was registered against Capt in the infamous multi-crore Ludhiana City Centre scam and Sidhu was somehow to blame for getting that FIR registered against Capt, his son Raninder Singh along with others.
And, Capt’s exoneration in this scam also came when Sidhu was Punjab Cabinet Minister of Local Bodies Department under whose purview Ludhiana City Centre Project falls.
Navjot Sidhu, who had retired from all forms of cricket in the late 1990s, had made a special appearance twice on cricket ground on the invite of Capt Amarinder Singh who organized two exhibition matches, once as Maharaja of Patiala in 2000 and then as Punjab CM in 2004. Sidhu obliged Capt on both occasions.
In March 2000, as the Maharaja of erstwhile Royal State Patiala, Capt Amarinder Singh had organized a series of cricket matches between Stragglers of Asia Cricket Club and Maharaja Eleven.
In the second match of that series, on March 9, 2000, Sidhu appeared at Patiala’s Dhruv Pandove Cricket Stadium.
It was probably for the first time after his retirement that Sidhu had taken to cricket field that too on Capt’s invitation.
Then, on February 19, 2004, again Navjot Sidhu made a special appearance at Patiala’s cricket stadium during a match between Punjab (India) CM’s XI and an invitation team from Pakistan.
That exhibition match had been organized as a part of the Patiala Heritage Week celebrations.
It was Capt Amarinder’s first tenure as Punjab CM. Though Sidhu did not play in that match, he came on the special invite of Capt Amarinder and was the biggest attraction during the match.
It was the time when Sidhu was trying to get a foothold in politics after joining the Bharatiya Janata Party. It wasn’t Sidhu’s entry into politics that surprised many but his joining the BJP did so because Sidhu’s father Late Bhagwant Singh Sidhu was a Congressman and was the Patiala District Congress Committee (DCC) President.
At that time there were talks in the political circles that the BJP may field Sidhu against Capt Amarinder in the next Assembly elections (which were to be held in 2007) but, the saffron party made him its candidate in 2004 General Elections from Amritsar Lok Sabha seat which he won and his likely clash with Capt Amarinder did not take place.
Then in 2006, the multi-crore infamous Ludhiana City Centre scam was reported by media which alleged the involvement of the then CM Capt Amarinder Singh, his son Raninder Singh along with the then Punjab Local Bodies Minister Chaudhary Jagjit Singh and others.
That time, Navjot Sidhu along with senior Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) leader Sukhbir Singh Badal (yes, you read it correct Sidhu with Sukhbir Badal, because there was an SAD-BJP alliance in Punjab and Sidhu was in the saffron party) gave a complaint to the Sarabha Nagar Police Station in Ludhiana –under whose jurisdiction Ludhiana City Centre project was to come up– demanding registration of an FIR against Capt Amarinder and others.
Though the FIR wasn’t lodged that time but when the SAD-BJP alliance formed government in Punjab in February 2007 with Sukhbir’s father Parkash Singh Badal as the chief minister, that time an FIR in this matter was registered in March 2007.
The Ludhiana City Centre case pertains to Capt Amarinder’s first tenure as Punjab CM from 2002 to 2007. The Punjab Vigilance Bureau had filed a charge sheet in this case in December 2007.
Things kept moving fast, and after BJP denied party ticket to Sidhu from Amritsar Lok Sabha seat in 2014, from where was twice MP and made Arun Jaitley its candidate, Sidhu kept away from electioneering though he used to consider Jaitley his political guru. It was Sidhu’s staying away from that election that made Capt Amarinder’s victory easy.
Yes, Congress had fielded Capt Amarinder Singh as its Lok Sabha candidate from Amritsar against Jaitley. And Capt Amarinder won easily with a good margin.
After parting ways with the BJP, Sidhu joined the Congress just before 2017 Punjab Assembly elections and he entered Punjab Vidhan Sabha for the first time after winning from Amritsar East Assembly constituency.
When Capt Amarinder Singh was sworn-in for the second time as Punjab CM in February 2017, Sidhu was made a Cabinet minister and was given the important Local Bodies Department though he was nurturing ambitions of becoming the Deputy Chief Minister.
In August 2017, the VB moved a closure report in the case and gave a sort of clean chit to Capt Amarinder. Two of the 35 persons booked in the case have since died. Though it wasn’t in Sidhu’s purview (as the
Local Bodies minister) to exonerate Capt Amarinder in this case, he proved lucky for the latter the second time, the first time was when Sidhu’s absence from electioneering ensured Capt Amarinder’s easy win from Amritsar Lok Sabha seat.
Sidhu’s relations with Capt Amarinder started turning sour when the former went for Imran Khan’s swearing-in ceremony as Pakistan Prime Minister. It was on this occasion that Sidhu had that infamous hug with Pakistan Army Chief General Bajwa.
And when Sidhu played a vital role in the opening of the Kartarpur Sahib Corridor, Capt Amarinder rightly sensed that Sidhu was going to overshadow him sooner or later, and it did happen eventually.
Sidhu is a former cricketer and now he has learned the art of politics also.
He knows well that both in cricket and politics it is the timing that matters most. In his playing days, Sidhu initially used to play the role of a sheet-anchor and then used to up the momentum in the slog overs.
In politics too, Sidhu kept a low profile ever since he resigned as the Punjab Cabinet minister, and now when Punjab Assembly elections are not very far away, he has accelerated his tempo and seems to be ready for the final onslaught. But then, Capt is a real Captain, a former Army man.
He too won’t give in easily. Now, it is to be seen that Capt Amarinder Singh and Navjot Sidhu’s relations take what turn.