Amritsar, March 16 :
Top leaders of Punjab’s ruling Akali Dal-BJP alliance can breathe easy now. Having been involved in a war of words with BJP’s Amritsar MP Navjot Singh Sidhu in recent times, they may not have to bear with “Sidhuisms” for some time as the party has now announced Arun Jaitley as its candidate from the seat.
For Jaitley, who is the leader of opposition in the Rajya Sabha and a leading lawyer, the April 30 election from Amritsar will be his first foray into a popular election.
His entry here will ensure that the Bharatiya Janata Party and Akali Dal leadership will stand unitedly behind him. Till now, Jaitley used to be a member of the Rajya Sabha.
“Sidhu started criticising Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal and Akali Dal president Sukhbir Singh Badal. He openly pitched himself against the Punjab government, of which the BJP is a part. He took on BJP ministers and leaders and left no scope for the party to accommodate him. He was becoming an embarrassment,” a senior Punjab BJP leader told IANS on condition of anonymity.
The media savvy Sidhu, who has been avoiding journalists in the last few months, could not be reached Sunday.
For Sidhu, who was elected from Amritsar thrice – two general elections in 2004 and 2009 and one by-election in 2007 – the writing was quite clearly on the wall.
The BJP’s local leadership, including Local Bodies Minister Anil Joshi and senior leaders demanded last week that Jaitley be given the Amritsar ticket.
The move was targeted at easing out Sidhu from the scene. Sidhu gave a small window to the party leader by announcing that while he would only contest from Amritsar, he would not mind if Jaitley was given the ticket from here.
His opponents had put up ‘missing’ posters with a reward in Amritsar constituency after Sidhu did the vanishing act from his seat for a few months last year.
This was not the first time Sidhu remained absent from his constituency.
When he first won the election from Amritsar in 2004, Sidhu trounced seven-time Congress MP Raghunandan Lal Bhatia by a convincing margin of over 110,000 votes.
Forced to resign after he was convicted in 2006 in a case of culpable homicide not amounting to murder by the Punjab and Haryana High Court and subsequently his conviction being stayed by the Supreme Court, Sidhu bounced back to win the 2007 by-election from Amritsar by nearly 80,000 votes.
In the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, Sidhu lost considerable influence and managed to win the seat by a small margin of nearly 7,500 votes.
Since then, he has concentrated more on his TV appearances, rather than spending time in Amritsar.
“We see him more on TV rather than in the constituency. He has run into trouble with the Akalis, BJP leaders and district administration officers. He needs to change his ways,” Ashwini Chawla, a trader in Amritsar’s congested Hall Bazaar area, told IANS.
Sidhu was called by the BJP national leadership to New Delhi in the past week and is believed to have been offered a seat in Delhi. However, he refused to contest from anywhere but Amritsar.
Having been a star campaigner for the BJP in other states, the BJP is unlikely to let go the sulking Sidhu. He could soon salvage some pride if he gets back to parliament via the Rajya Sabha route later this year.