Would it be the end of political road for Navjot Singh Sidhu and namesake wife if he is not chosen to lead Congress this assembly elections after being wooed by the Gandhi family in 2017 ,20 days before then polls? The mercurial ex cricketer has had a bumpy ride on a tough wicket with bouncers and spins by his colleagues in the Amarinder and Channi goverments for last five years. This even as he quit the BJP and declined offer from Aam Aadmi Party. The New Indian Executive Editor, Rohan Dua joins his wife Navjot Kaur Sidhu,, on her husband’s campaign in Amritsar East between Verka Chowk to their office on Court Road via Holy City’s residence to understand what’s playing on the couple’s mind.
Q: Many people in Amritsar believe that your husband will the CM if your party wins clear mandate this elections? Do you also believe so?
A: To be honest, I don’t believe in dwelling too much into the future and prefer to live in the present. These days, my only focus is to garner as much support for my husband. I leave early in the morning and get back home only past 10.30 p.m. An election commission vehicle trails me as I am the only one on the road. I am a candidate campaigning and meeting people.
I think we have a come a long way here. When we got this constituency, it was in a bad shape. Today, it is probably one of the best constituencies in Punjab. We spent a lot on the welfare of the constituency and my councilors worked really hard to get us where we stand today.
I can proudly say that today we are known to all the shopkeepers, street vendors and people at large. Even small children recognise me despite my being an ex MLA. Visit their homes, having tea with them its a great blessing and brings a lot of satisfaction.
Q:When Sidhu was brought into the party fold, it was Priyanka Gandhi who oversaw his induction. There must have been some understanding that he will be given some post. Now that five years have elapsed, do you think it is time that any such promise or word be kept?
A:: Of course! To be able to do something positive for the state, you need to be in a position of power. Only then you can make clear decisions. Which is something we haven’t been able to do so far. We have so much investment from abroad, but we have not been able to put that to use. For instance, we couldn’t set up gondolas for Amritsar, a project worth Rs 1,500 crore, which would have brought employment to 10,000 people from Amritsar. That file has been sitting with the CM. So, yes that hurt a lot.
Similarly, I had a Rs 1800 crore project for Verka Hospital which was shelved. First Badal Sahib wanted to take it to Bhatinda and I had to explain that you need an international airport for medical tourism. If executed, Punjab would have been the first to offer such.
Personally, we have nothing to gain from politics except for people’s goodwill and wish to do something for the people of the land. In fact, being in politics has pulled us down financially. Since 2004, when we joined politics, we completely put our work on back burner.
I used to earn Rs 5 to Rs 10 lakh per month, while Navjot was being paid Rs 25 lakh for one hour. So it is not easy to let go of such financial gains. So, if this time we don’t get our chance, then we are seriously contemplating on going our ways. We’d rather work hard in our professions and travel the world and do what we want to do, than be somewhere where our efforts are not being recognised.
Q:It comes across that you both have had a tough luck with political parties you chose to support. Having been so closely affiliated to the respective top leadership, who gave you a tougher time — Badals or Amarinder
A: Captain Amarinder was never available (to interact). I certainly don’t believe that Captain was involved in drug business or any such nefarious activity. Also, though he was corrupt and sought percentages in projects, it is beyond anyone’s comprehension why he cut himself off from people and chose to work only from his farm house. No CM leaves his office and stays in a farmhouse. Most important, he cut off contact with ground.
And now he claims that he was aware that all his MLAs were involved in mining. When Navjot was screaming at the top of his voice that make corporations for minings and bring it under government, no one paid heed. Considering the financial state of Punjab was poor, he did nothing to streamline things. He refused to make corporations, and put things into private hands.
Q: Could it be that Captain is taking potshots at Congress and not even sparing Charanjit Channi while at it? Especially, since the top Congress leadership is refusing to take action on Channi despite the recovery of Rs 10 crore from his nephew by ED. In fact, they’re even considering Channi as their CM candidate…
A:: I am not going to speak on things I am not clear about — be it on ED recovery or whether Channi has something to do with his nephew’s business. Working with Akali Dal, I am clear that they were involved in drug business. I have supporting evidence to that and I am well aware that people are scared to speak up.
My contention with Captain Amarinder is that why is he supporting Majithia if he has no vested interests? Why support someone accused of drug dealing when you yourself are not involved? Why not put him behind bars? That would have sent out a strong message that Punjab would not tolerate anything to do with drugs and people dealing in it would be brought to book.
Q: When your husband, Navjot Singh Sidhu let go of his ministership under Captain Amarinder government, how did you deal with it at a personal level? That was also the time when you were sidelined in your respective party. How did you manage to stay away from limelight those two years after he resigned from his post, before making a comeback as Punjab Congress Chief?
A: We are not into politics for limelight. God has kind to shower us with fame — in or outside work. But we have worked very hard on the Punjab model and spent sleepless nights trying to perfect it.
I have been closely associated with creating an ideal health model where one has an independent digital health card; where it is mandatory to get your health check ups; get free medicines from government hospitals; have clinical establishment act in place… Likewise, Navjot is working hard on the education sector… Our contention is that it must be implemented at priority so no one can practice corruption.
Q: You have spent a significant number of years in politics as has your husband. Having worked closely with various parties and in good positions, where do you feel is Congress missing its fire? Or where do you feel it holds a stronger stead over AAP or Akali Dal?
A: Time has come to reap the rewards, where we are concerned. With regard to whether Congress scores over other or is lacking in fire, I feel you should always keep competition in mind. When I work, I work very hard. And I feel people must also be in the know.
Which is why my focus is on sharing my vision and work with them. I need to tell them this is what I did for you — how we spent Rs 160 crore and that not a single penny was misplaced. Everything is on paper and out there in the open. Every penny is accounted for. 95 per cent work is over and only five to 10 percent work is remaining, that too because of early elections.
Rohan Dua: What projects are you proud of today in Amritsar east? Or any other that he initiated as a minister. Can you name some of them?
A: First is a Rs 500 crore project for Amritsar city — I am not taking municipal bodies but entire Punjab. For Amritsar, we have a film city planned, or the sports centre made with an investment of Rs 75 crore (which was scuttled); Sikh people really feel blessed to have the corridor open; work on the Bhalla and Kora fatak flyover — almost Rs 120 crore has already been spent on the project and we are left with another Rs 40 crore.
I don’t believe in wasting money, so I have spared Rs 8 crore on the facelift of roads. We will resume work on them after the elections, whether or not we get the votes.
Q:Was there a bitter feeling between Channi and Navjot Singh Sidhu over anything, or not?
A: I really can’t comment on that. But yes, I would say it matters to be educated and aware. Your vision defines how progressive you are. You can handle things differently. Case in point, Navjot could easily reach out to Hardeep Singh Puri as a union minister and get Rs 12,500 crore and more than Rs 4,000 for smart city. Likewise he could go to World Bank and get Rs 3500 crore for getting water from UBDV canal or (Nandan) Nilekani and ADB bank for projects. They believed in Navjot’s vision and invested in the same.
Q: But you would personally like to see him (Navjot Singh Sidhu) as CM?
A:That is natural. I believe that he is intelligent and smart and people of the land love him for that. In politics, if you want India to prosper then you just have educated leadership. This is the only profession that rules a state.
Q: How do you find politics as a deviation from the professions that you followed? Are any of your your kids inclined towards either of your professions — Politics or whatsoever?
A: Politics is a big no for them. But yes, professionally, my son wanted to be a sportsperson. He was a gold medalist. But by the time he grew up, he started having second thoughts. He knew it would be difficult to have a life of your own and to survive for a long time in the sports world. So he understood the need to have two professions. But since the world is overtly competitive, he realised in time that it would not be easy working on two things. So he is now practicing law in Delhi. And trust me it is not easy, as he doesn’t take the help of his father. Our daughter, on the other hand, has been inclined towards beauty and fashion since childhood — quite like her father. So yes, life goes on as do our career.
Q: Are your kids here for the campaign?
A: Only my daughter is here — as she is in the country till her post graduation starts. She is studying in London. Our son is not coming, because of his work. It is very difficult to take such a long break if you are practising law. He has his cases in between. Corona hasn’t made things easy. He didn’t want to take a break.
Q: How confident are you for Congress’ win?