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Navjot Singh Sidhu: Mr Mercurial

In nearly four decades as a public figure, Sidhu has shown the ability to swing from one extreme to another, and not always for his good.

September 29, 2021 / 04:43 PM IST
Navjot Singh Sidhu's resignation has not been accepted by Congress.

Navjot Singh Sidhu's resignation has not been accepted by Congress.

That Navjot Singh Sidhu created the biggest scandal of his life just about a year after one of his finest performances as a cricketer speaks of the caprice that has defined his life. World Cup hero in 1987, road rage bully in 1988. Sensible one day, childish the next. Genuinely erudite and warm at times, a corny caricature on other occasions. In nearly four decades as a public figure, Sidhu has shown the ability to swing from one extreme to another, and not always for his good.

The events of September 28 have again proven this. Sidhu resigned as the chief of Congress in Punjab, four years after joining them from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), where he spent over a decade.

Sidhu made his cricket debut for India in 1983, against Clive Lloyd’s all-conquering side featuring the great pace attack of Malcolm Marshall, Michael Holding and Andy Roberts. He was called a ‘strokeless wonder’ then by renowned Indian cricket writer Rajan Bala.

Stung by the label, Sidhu gave up cricket for a while. By the time he made his One-Day debut, in the 1987 Reliance World Cup, he had become a changed player. Like Rahul Dravid after him, Sidhu had adapted himself to the new brand of cricket. Stepping out against spinners and hoisting them over the fence for sixes with his ‘Power’ brand bat became a Sidhu specialty. He became one of the stars of the 1987 World Cup.

You’d expect a well-read Patiala University standout in the prime of his youth and with a promising future ahead of him to conduct himself responsibly. But on December 27, 1988, Sidhu lost his head to the extent that he hit a much older person.

Close

Sidhu was in a Patiala parking lot with his friend Rupinder Sandhu. The two got into an argument over right of way with a 65-year-old man named Gurnam Singh. The dispute escalated. Sidhu and Sandhu hit Gurnam Singh, who later died in hospital.

In 2018, the Supreme Court convicted Sidhu under Section 323 for “causing hurt”, but acquitted him of culpable homicide (Section 304). He was spared the harsher verdict. Sidhu’s lawyers had argued that Gurnam did not die from the punches from Sidhu and his friend but due to a heart attack afterwards.

But Sidhu hit the man. That much is now proven. And that is shameful. Besides, the acquittal further obligated Sidhu to the Gandhi family. When he created a controversy by attending Imran Khan’s swearing-in as Pakistan’s prime minister, he was insubordinate to the Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh, in whose cabinet Sidhu was a minister. Capt Amarinder Singh was not pleased. When asked about it, Sidhu said, “Which captain? He (Amarinder) was a captain in the army...but my captain is Rahul Gandhi. It is he who sent me to Pakistan.”

Till the time of the Patiala incident, Sidhu had the reputation of being a shy, quiet man. He’d avoid journalists. There is the famous story of him trying to cajole Kapil Dev, himself not very comfortable with the media those days, to ignore interview requests in Ahmedabad in 1983. “Meenakshi Seshadri ki picture lagi hai, ‘Hero’. That’s a much better option,” Sidhu told Kapil.  (Kapil chose to face the press, and when asked why a country of a billion could not produce another Kapil Dev, he replied, like Pele had done when asked a similar question, “My mother is old and my father is no more.”)

But after the road rage incident it became clear that anger lurked inside the quiet Sidhu. A fit of recklessness could never be ruled out.

In 1996, Sidhu stormed out of an England tour midway after misinterpreting a Hyderabadi usage by captain Mohammad Azharuddin as a personal insult. On September 28, he seemed to mark the 25th anniversary of the incident with another walkout, this time from the Congress.

“I’m not Gautam Buddha,” Sidhu said on Aap Ki Adalat in 2006, while making the point that Gurnam Singh had abused him and his friend and provoked them to hit him. There is a lot Sidhu has been called over the years. But he need not worry. Not many will call him Buddha, especially after all that has transpired in the last few days.

Read more: Miffed Navjot Singh Sidhu raises questions over DGP, AG appointments, 'tainted' leaders
Akshay Sawai

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