A man who is heading nowhere is sure to reach his destination. Now this may not make much sense to most of us but it does, you bet, to Navjot Singh Sidhu. Besides his inane, inscrutable sentences and mixed metaphors, the man is known as a ‘sit-down’ comic character in comedy shows. Which isn’t an apt definition—for most of the time, the rest of us are left wondering what he’s doing on TV, laughing uproariously even as the audience uneasily looks around trying to figure out what the joke is (he and the other judges alone appear to have a clue to what’s going on).
Now I’d like to keep my distance from the mercurial MP from Amritsar, thank you. Not only because he stands accused of homicide—unintentional road rage, he claimed—a case which is still under trial. But also because, by his own admission, he had once thrown a cup of hot, steaming tea on a cricketer colleague because he was upset over something. He also boasts of having beaten up another cricketer, slapping him around in a hotel room. He’s been sacked as a cricket commentator once for swearing on air. Finally, also because he is never at a loss for words but he will be damned if he allows you to get a word in. Such people, full of themselves and intolerant of others, are best kept at a distance, a lesson his constituents have learnt the hard way.
Give him his due though. Like many in politics, he can bullshit his way through anything. Listen to one of his rare speeches in the Lok Sabha on the plight of farmers (available on YouTube). There’s very little he says in all of nine minutes but you can see the other MPs doubling up with laughter. Here again, it’s still not clear to me what they were laughing at. Sidhu, naturally, seemed to believe they were bowled over by his clever proverbs. To me, it looked suspiciously like they were laughing at him. (His record in Parliament is dismal, having taken part in only three debates, and his attendance record—at 28 per cent—is one-third the average attendance of a member of the 15th Lok Sabha.)
But Sidhu is good at quoting obscure shlokas or anecdotes to propose a motion, counter it and duck it, all at the same time. He is adept at shouldering arms, leaving uncomfortable questions sail past him, unanswered, like why he is the president of a ‘Jat’ foundation when he claims to have no faith in the caste system. I am also fascinated at his ability to retain tone and tenor, no matter where. From comedy shows to the commentary box, from TV studios to lecture theatres, from religious congregations to political rallies, from reality shows to films, his incessant chatter has an infectious quality. It induces you to laugh without quite realising why it lulls you into believing that you have just heard something profound.
It is this quality that prompted Narendra Modi and the BJP to request that he quit the Big Boss house in 2012 and reach Gujarat to campaign. He did leave Big Boss and received a warm welcome at Amritsar. He waxed eloquent on how his political responsibilities were more important than commercial interests. But in less than a week, he was back in the commentary box, unfazed and quite oblivious to the campaign in Gujarat. The man also has this uncanny ability to hijack events. When Prime Minister Manmohan Singh arrived to flag off the Amritsar-Haridwar Janshatabdi train in 2006, Sidhu was already there, breaking a coconut while the BJP mahila morcha chanted Vedic hymns.
Even in the state, his mplad funds remain largely unutilised even as he claims to be a sevak of the holy city. While the SAD-BJP regime in Punjab went out of its way to make his wife (also a Navjot) parliamentary secretary in the government, the couple of late have been bitterly complaining against both the Akali Dal as well as the BJP for neglecting them. The intemperate comments have alienated the two parties so much that despite Sidhu raising a din over his not being invited to the Modi rally in Jagraon, no one paid him any mind. He was nowhere to be seen and none of the speakers made even a passing reference to him.
Iqbal’s couplet, Khudi ko kar buland itna ke har taqdeer se pehle, Khuda bande se khud pooche bata teri raza kya hai, is one of his favourite quotes (as in, he’s likely to break into it at every conceivable and inconceivable occasion). The joke is he’s used it in so many different contexts, the poet himself would have been bewildered. The latest take on that is forget about Khuda, even the BJP is not asking Sidhu about his raza (desire). It is doubtful whether the party, unsure about whether he is an asset or a liability, will field him again from Amritsar. It would seem that ESPN, one of Sidhu’s many employers today, has come closest to understanding him. “Sidhu’s cricket had a schizophrenic touch to it,” says the ESPN website. The schizophrenia clearly extends to his life and politics. Nobody travels on the road to success without a puncture or two—that’s another pet Sidhuism. It remains to be seen if the latest puncture will be repaired in time.
(The author is a documentary filmmaker and editor-in-chief of Global Punjab TV Network, Chandigarh.)