This week marked the virtual end of cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu's innings on Punjab's political wicket. The high-profile star campaigner of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been yanked off the Amritsar Lok Sabha seat and replaced by senior BJP leader Arun Jaitley.
Sidhu, the only BJP Lok Sabha MP from Punjab, has been forced to exit as his differences with top BJP leaders in Punjab and with the Shiromani Akali Dal leadership hit a new high (or low!).
While replacing Sidhu, the BJP has not attributed any credible reasons why this has been done despite his having thrice won from Amritsar in 2004, 2007 (by-election) and 2009. The BJP offered him the West Delhi and Kurukshetra (Haryana) seats but he refused to contest from anywhere but Amritsar.
Known for his maverick ways on the cricket and political field, Sidhu seemed to have bitten off more than what he could chew when he took on Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal and Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal, who is also president of the Akali Dal, last year. He remained at loggerheads with powerful Punjab Revenue Minister Bikram Singh Majithia, Sukhbir Badal's brother-in-law.
Sidhu openly accused the Badal-led government, which is an alliance of the Akali Dal and the BJP, of discrimination against the Amritsar constituency in matters of development and funding. He even accused the government of diverting funds meant for Amritsar to other areas.
Though he was the best known face of the BJP in Punjab, Sidhu's run-ins with senior state leaders led to his alienation in the party and the government. The result was that Sidhu found himself politically isolated. Senior party leaders from Amritsar, including cabinet minister Anil Joshi, openly opposed his re-nomination from the seat and demanded that Jaitley be fielded instead. Sidhu's only support came from his wife and BJP legislator Navjot Kaur, who is chief parliamentary secretary in the Badal government.
The upshot was that when Jaitley, leader of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha, arrived in Amritsar, Sidhu was conspicuous by his absence despite being the incumbent MP. The rest of the BJP and Akali Dal leadership was present in full strength to welcome Jaitley.
Differences with other leaders apart, what went against Sidhu was the way he was "missing" from his constituency for months together at least three times in recent years. Years ago, Sidhu had even walked out of the Indian cricket team in the middle of a tour of England after his differences with the team management. That led to his exit from the team for quite a while.
Sidhu, who has been the BJP's star campaigner in several other states, seems to have ended up on the negative side in Punjab's politics. His political innings in the state seems to have ended - at least for now!