Ending the suspense, cricketer- turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu today joined the Congress after meeting Rahul Gandhi and the party said it would be “immensely strengthened” in poll-bound Punjab with his presence.
53-year-old Sidhu is likely to contest from Amritsar East Assembly seat, party leaders said.
Sidhu had resigned from Rajya Sabha and quit BJP following which his wife Navjot Kaur had joined Congress on November 20. Punjab Congress Chief Amarinder Singh had said sometime back that Sidhu joining the party was only a matter of time.
“Known for straight talking, ideological commitment to the cause of nationalism as also wit and humour, we are certain that Congress party will be immensely strengthened in Punjab and elsewhere with the entry of Sidhu,” party spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala said in a statement.
Sidhu was earlier member of Lok Sabha from Amritsar and was apparently not happy when in the last Lok Sabha polls, he was replaced by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley who was subsequently defeated by Amarinder Singh.
BJP’s ally Akali Dal, which has had frosty ties with Sidhu, was quick to hit out at the former Amritsar MP, saying he has joined the “party and family” which had “attacked Darbar Sahib” (Golden Temple).
Taking a dig, Punjab’s Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Badal asked why Sidhu had come to the state “20 days before the elections” and said that he should come clean on the “bargain”.
“U left BJP saying @akali_dal_ did not let U enter Punjab. Where were you since last ten months? Come clean and tell Punjabis (sic),” he said on twitter.
The SAD chief also targeted Amarinder, asking him if he has been replaced by Sidhu as the Chief Ministerial candidate.
“Please clear the air, Are you in favor of making Navjot Sidhu the face of Punjab Congress as done by Rahul Gandhi recently?
“Please clear the air, Are you in favor of making Navjot Sidhu the face of Punjab Congress as done by Rahul Gandhi recently? (sic),” he said.
Amarinder, meanwhile, spoke to Sidhu on phone to welcome him into the party fold, saying it was “great news” and his joining would further strengthen the Congress in Punjab in the run-up to the state Assembly elections.
“Besides being the party s choice for contesting the Amritsar East seat, Sidhu, who is known for his wit and humour besides being strongly nationalist, is the star campaigner in the Punjab assembly polls for the Congress,” Amarinder Singh said in a statement.
AICC secretary Asha Kumari told PTI that it is party’s understanding that Sidhu will contest from Amritsar East Assembly seat. She said the seat has been allotted to Sidhu’s wife Navjot Kaur and between them they have to decide who would contest the seat.
Kumari, however, denied suggestions that there was a delay from Sidhu’s side, saying, “he wanted to join today and he did so”.
Amarinder also said Sidhu could not immediately follow suit after his wife joined the Congress “because of certain professional commitments”.
After quitting Rajya Sabha, Sidhu was in talks for joining Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) led by Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal but it did not materialise.
Punjab is witnessing a three-cornered contest among BJP-SAD, Congress and AAP.
Congress is out of power in Punjab for the past 10 years and is making efforts to wrest the state from SAD-BJP combine.
AAP has also emerged a fierce contender for power.
Soon after Sidhu meet Congress Vice President at his residence, Surjewala said, “Indian National Congress (INC) welcomes S Navjot Singh Sidhu into Congress family and we thank Congress Vice President for his visionary approach in bringing together like-minded people on common platform under the Congress umbrella.”
Along with Navjot Kaur, former Akali Dal legislator Pargat Singh who had joined hands with Sidhu to form the outfit Awaaz-E Punjab, had also come into Congress.