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Sportsman-Comedian Navjot Sidhu Back In Punjab Poll Game As Congress, AAP Renew Offers

PATIALA – At a time when political pundits had almost written off cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu as a game-changer in the Punjab polls, the former test opener is back in the reckoning with both the Congress and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) trying to seal a deal with him. And Sidhu is learnt to be bargaining hard for the best offer for himself and his outfit Awaaz-e-Punjab.

It is learnt that Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra got in touch with Sidhu through Ghulam Nabi Azad this morning, and the AAP sent its national organisation-building in-charge Durgesh Pathak to strike a deal with Sidhu on Wednesday evening.

Confirming that he met Sidhu and his group, Pathak said he cannot divulge the details of what transpired. “All I can say is that the meeting went off positively,” he told HT. Sources close to Sidhu, however, claimed that the AAP has offered the post of the deputy CM to Sidhu if the party comes to power as also two ministerial portfolios and five MLA tickets, including one to his wife Navjot Kaur Sidhu. In order to circumvent the AAP rule that it does not give two tickets from a family, the AAP has offered an alliance with Sidhu’s Awaaz-e-Punjab rather than merger of the outfit into the AAP.

Sources said Sidhu and other leaders of Awaaz-e-Punjab are, however, not enthusiastic about the AAP offer. “Going by the past experience, AAP leaders can go back on their word once the elections are won. The experience with them has been bitter,” said a Sidhu’s close aide, adding that they decided last evening to wait for the Congress offer.

Congress leaders on Thursday claimed that the deal with Sidhu had been “finalised”. “Azad had a detailed meeting with Sidhu this morning and a deal has been formalised. The Congress has offered a Lok Sabha seat for Sidhu, six assembly seats to fight polls and a cabinet berth for Sidhu’s wife if Congress forms a government in the state,” said a senior Congress leader, requesting anonymity, adding that Azad will discuss the final deal with Rahul Gandhi on Friday.

A section of the Awaaz-e Punjab, however, said their joining the Congress when Amarinder was heading the party in Punjab was not acceptable and no deal had been finalised as yet.

Sources in the Congress said the deal with Sidhu had almost been sealed a fortnight back, but Amarinder’s calling Sidhu a “clown” and his outfit a “tonga party” spoiled the parleys. The party then directed Amarinder to tone down his attack and he issued a statement welcoming Sidhu into the party.

AAP’s interest in Sidhu, on the other hand, was renewed after the party analysed that the response of recent visit of national convener Arvind Kejriwal to Punjab was lower than anticipated. The party’s state top leaders, barring a few, are learnt to have asked Kejriwal to talk to Sidhu before it was too late.

The party’s state in-charge Sanjay Singh said in a press conference here on Thursday that talks were on with Sidhu but only time will tell what final shape they take. Party’s state convener Gurpreet Singh Waraich said there were no hard feelings of the party towards Sidhu for his outburst against Kejriwal. “A single statement cannot be held against a person forever,” said Waraich. Ankit Lal, a senior party leader heading the AAP IT wing, however, tweeted on Thursday that the party had “not” offered the post of deputy CM to Sidhu.

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