New Delhi: In a major jolt to the BJP ahead of the Punjab assembly elections, cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu on Monday tendered his resignation from the Rajya Sabha, sparking off speculation that he may walk across to the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).
Sidhu in a statement indicated his discontent with the Bharatiya Janata Party, of which he was thrice an elected member of the Lok Sabha and currently a nominated member of the Rajya Sabha, saying “in the war of right or wrong, you can’t afford to be neutral”.
Deputy Chairman of the Rajya Sabha P.J. Kurien on Monday announced in the house that Sidhu’s resignation has been accepted.
Earlier in the day, Gurdeep Singh Sappal, Officer on Special Duty (OSD) to Vice President Hamid Ansari tweeted, “Navjot Singh Sidhu, nominated member, resigns from Rajya Sabha.”
The resignation came as a big surprise to the Bharatiya Janata Party which shares power with the Shiromani Akali Dal in Punjab. The state is to go to the polls early next year when the five-year term of its assembly ends.
Though there is heightened speculation of Sidhu joining the Aam Aadmi Party, he has not yet resigned from the BJP.
“I am also watching television reports saying that after resigning from BJP, Sidhu is all set to join AAP. But he has not yet resigned from the party,” BJP national office secretay Mahendra Pandey told IANS.
Soon after resigning from the Upper House, Sidhu hit out at the BJP, saying the party despite nominating him to the Rajya Sabha had closed his doors in Punjab.
“I had accepted the Rajya Sabha nomination for welfare of Punjab. With closure of every window leading to Punjab, the purpose stands defeated, now a mere burden. I prefer not to carry it,” he said in a statement.
“In the war of right or wrong, you can’t afford to be neutral rather than being self-centred. Punjab’s interest is paramount,” he added.
Sidhu said he had accepted the Rajya Sabha nomination at the behest of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
According to reports, Sidhu is likely to be the AAP’s Chief Ministerial candidate for Punjab.
Confirming Sidhu’s move to join the party, AAP’s Punjab convenor Sucha Singh Chhotepur tweeted, “Appreciate Navjot Sidhu and Navjot Kaur Sidhu move, looking forward for their Welcome to @AAPPunjab2017 @AamAadmiParty.”
Though AAP leaders in Delhi have officially refused to confirm the development, they have not ruled out the possibility of Sidhu and his wife walking across to the AAP.
AAP leader Sanjay Singh, who is in charge of the party’s strategy for the Punjab assembly elections, said that good forces should join hands in Punjab to oppose the land mafia and drug mafia.
“Sidhu is indeed a big force as he played a vital role in the politics of Punjab and also brought laurels to the nation in cricket. He always raised the matters of Punjab credibly at the national and state level, and he and his wife continuously raised their voice against the corruption of the Akalis and the drug menace there,” he told a news channel.
“We welcome him,” he added.
He, however, said that people will have to wait for a formal announcement in this regard.
Sanjay Singh also said the resignation of the cricketer-turned-politician from the Upper House is seen as a “protest” against the ongoing Akali-BJP dispensation in Punjab.
“All right minded people should join this dharam yudh (righteous battle) against corruption,” the AAP leader said.
AAP’s media coordinator Deepak Bajpai said that the party welcomes Sidhu’s move.
“Doors of the AAP are open for anybody who believes in clean politics and wants to fight against corruption. We welcome his move,” Bajpai told IANS.
A senior AAP leader, who wished not to be named, told IANS that speculations over Sidhu joining the AAP are “true”.
“Yes, your speculations on Sidhu joining AAP are true,” he said.
AAP is seen as a contender for power in Punjab.
Sidhu had won the Amritsar Lok Sabha seat in 2009 but did not contest in 2014 when senior BJP leader Arun Jaitley was fielded from there, apparently under Akali Dal pressure. Jaitley lost.
Sidhu has been a steady campaigner for the BJP in elections. He has appeared in popular TV shows and is known for his ready wit and Urdu shairi.