Fewer people have worn more hats than Navjot Singh Sidhu — a cricketer, commentator, politician, comedian, and now a convict.
Sidhu excelled at cricket. ESPN at the time of his retirement called him "the most consistent and stable opener after Sunil Gavaskar". He became a lawmaker four times from two different parties. He has had one of the best runs in the Indian comedy circuit.
While these roles might appear to be poles apart, Sidhu's attitude of "playing on own terms" remained common throughout. Despite almost two decades of political life, he is seen in some quarters as an unlikely politician.
The Indian Express noted in an article, "The cricketer-turned-commentator-turned-politician has been in politics for more than 18 years. Yet, many see him as an unlikely politician – one who spoke his mind regardless of the party line or diktats."
Sidhu's political career began in 2004 with the Bharatiya Janata Party, which sent him to the Parliament three times, but it has been said that he was never popular with the BJP's Punjab leadership or former ally Shiromani Akali Dal. Yet he became party MP in 2004, 2007, 2009, and 2016 – the last time in Rajya Sabha.
However, Sidhu resigned from Rajya Sabha within months. Then he left the party and joined BJP arch-rival Congress, which went on to form government in Punjab in 2017. Sidhu would go on to join Chief Minister Amarinder Singh's cabinet, but relations between the two soured in no time and Sidhu resigned from the Cabinet when his portfolio was changed.
The PTI noted in a piece that Sidhu remained quiet between 2019-21. Until he was not. "However, once he was back in the thick of things a few months ago, he not only took on the Opposition but repeatedly kept on making veiled attacks on the chief minister over a host of issues," said PTI.
Conventional wisdom would say that you stick to your chief minister, resolve disputes internally, and put up a united front in public. But when did Sidhu ever follow any convention?
As Aam Aadmi Party made inroads into Punjab, Sidhu opened a front against Amarinder and the two lashed at each other publically throughout the run-up to Punjab assembly elections. Sidhu, who had been elevated to Punjab Congress chief, eventually trumped in his tussle with Amarinder as the latter was forced to resign. However, in yet another move that surprised many, Sidhu resigned as the state unit chief soon after new Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi was sworn in.
Besides tussle with Amarinder and intra-party turmoil, Sidhu also made headlines for his bonhomie with former Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan and Pakistan's Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa, who he was photographed hugging when he attended Khan's swearing-in ceremony.
While the BJP lashed at him, Sidhu didn't seem to care. He called Khan "big brother" and shared the stage with the President of Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir.
As Sidhu irked people across the spectrum over the years and refused to toe the party line, a story would surface every few years that would fade soon on every occasion. That story was rooted in 1988, five years after he made his debut in international cricket.
In an act of road rage, Sidhu and a friend named Rupinder Singh Sandhu allegedly assaulted a 65-year-old man who died. Sidhu and Sandhu were initially tried for murder, but the trial court in September 1999 acquitted the two. However, in 2006, the Punjab and Haryana High Court reversed the judgement and held them guilty of culpable homicide not amounting to murder and gave three-year imprisonment.
The two then approached the Supreme Court which suspended the sentence and granted bail in 2007. It was this bail that allowed Sidhu to have a political career. The case was forgotten again until it resurfaced in 2018 when the Supreme Court let Sidhu go with a fine of Rs 1,000.
Even as the apex court accepted to hear a review petition against its order letting Sidhu go with a fine, it largely escaped public eye as Sidhu kept climbing political ladders and became the centre of Congress politics in Punjab.
But now that Sidhu has lost his election and has been ousted as state party chief, the case from 1988 has at last caught up with him. The Supreme Court on Thursday sentenced him to one year of imprisonment.
On his part, Sidhu has said he will submit to the majesty of law — perhaps the first submission in a long time for a man who has long played on his own terms.