New Delhi: The Bharatiya Janata Party’s repeated overtures to its sulking Punjab leader Navjot Singh Sidhu have received a cold response from the cricketer-turned-politician who remained reluctant to take up any significant campaign role in the state.
The northern state goes to the polls next year and the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal-BJP combine is staring at mounting anti-incumbency accumulated during the past ten years. Anxious about the state of the affairs in the state, BJP chief Amit Shah has convened a meeting of prominent state leaders in Delhi on February 6, party sources said. All organisational and election related issues will be discussed at the meeting.
“A senior party functionary had two meetings with him in recent past. But, he remains reluctant to take up any campaign role until the BJP is in alliance with the Akali Dal,” a source privy to the deliberations told reporters.
Sidhu remains one of the party’s most popular faces in Punjab but nurses a grudge for being sidelined earlier at the behest of the Akalis, with whom he shares a rocky relationship. The former Amritsar MP has emerged as kingpin in recent months after being courted by the upcoming Aam Aadmi Party, which won four seats in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls and could turn the assembly elections into a close triangular fight.
BJP leaders also suspect Sidhu is in constant touch with the AAP. His legislator wife, Navjot Kaur Sidhu, created flutters within the party circles last month by advocating a break up with the SAD ahead of the assembly election and suggesting people should vote for the AAP if the alliance continued.
The BJP is desperate to retain him and, a source said, it wants Sidhu to attain some prominence. He has been offered a projection as prominent campaign face, which could have helped the party in its larger aim of increasing footprint in Punjab.
Under the existing seat sharing formula, the BJP will field candidates in 23 out of the total 117 assembly seats. Many leaders in the BJP want this agreement to be renegotiated as the party has grown into a bigger force now. The SAD is also saddled with plummeting popularity after a wave of violent protests over cases of desecration of the Guru Granth Sahib swept the state.