News analysis | Sidhu focussed on Sikh matters, keeping other issues at bay

He risks eroding big chunk of Hindu vote bank that has traditionally favoured Congress

Two days ago, cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu quit as president of the Punjab Congress, asserting he would “not compromise on the struggle for Punjab-favoured agenda,” even as his politics in the recent past is seen to have been largely revolving around ‘Sikh’ (panthic) issues in an attempt to politically corner the ‘Badals’ of the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), keeping other potent issues at bay.

In April, after remaining in political slumber since his resignation from the Punjab Cabinet in 2019, Mr. Sidhu resurrected his political ride by going to a gurdwara in Burj Jawahar Singh Wala, near Bargari village of Faridkot. The village was the epicentre of sacrilege incidents in 2015. Two Sikh protesters were killed at Behbal Kalan during protests against the sacrilege.

Mr. Sidhu had been forcefully raising the issue of providing justice in the sacrilege incidents and hitting out at both his own government and the ‘Badal’ family in an attempt to project himself and the Congress as ‘pro-panth.’

In his bid to garner Sikh votes focussing on the community’s issues and by presenting himself as ‘pro-panthic’ by evoking the Bargari sacrilege issue repeatedly, Mr. Sidhu possibly does not realise that ahead of 2022 Assembly election, the ‘over focus’ on ‘panthic’ issues could end up eroding a substantial section of the Hindu vote bank that, according to many political analysts, has traditionally been with the Congress.

In Punjab, ‘panthic’ voters have been traditionally associated with the SAD, while Hindu voters have traditionally been inclined towards the Congress.

“The Congress has always had its support base among Hindus and Sikhs. But over-focussing on ‘panthic’ issues could create problems as it would be playing in the domain of the Akali Dal. The Congress should not go overboard with such issues. Already, the Akali Dal is on the back foot over the sacrilege issue. The Congress, in fact, should show some action on the ground rather than making noise. Mr. Sidhu’s attempt to foray into ‘panthic’ voters could backfire as the Hindu voters could swing,” said Ashutosh Kumar, professor, political science department, Punjab University.

Punjab-based writer and political analyst Desraj Kali said resignation over the issue surrounding Bargari was not justified.

“Mr. Sidhu should have realised that there are several other issues beyond the Bargari sacrilege that have plagued Punjab. People in Punjab are facing issues of unemployment, drugs, economic mess, farmer and labourer problems and their suicides. He quit on only one agenda,” he said.

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