Punjab Congress leader and former India batsman Navjot Sidhu set tongues wagging Wednesday after tweeting a photo of himself with fellow cricketer Harbhajan Singh months before polls.
The (cryptic) photo caption just said: “Picture loaded with possibilities… with bhajji, the shining star”.
The post comes amid speculation last week the Indian spinning legend (and another India cricket star – Yuvraj Singh) might join the BJP ahead of the 2022 Assembly election in Congress-ruled Punjab.
However, Harbhajan Singh moved swiftly to quash such talk; a firm tweet called it “fake news”.
Buzz about the spinner’s political career has been circulating since the 2019 Lok Sabha election.
Then too he had ruled out following Navjot Sidhu in swapping cricketing whites for political rallies. He said: “There are too many seasoned people in the politics. So, I have no plan.”
That was after reports the BJP had contacted the 41-year-old off-spinner over fielding him from the Amritsar Lok Sabha constituency, which has been a Congress stronghold won, in the past, by former Chief Minister Amarinder Singh and Navjot Sidhu (then, though, with the BJP).
For either the Congress or the BJP to land Harbhajan would be a big boost ahead of the election.
The BJP is eager to take advantage of recent turmoil within the Congress – which many have traced to Navjot Sidhu and his feud with former Chief Minister Amarinder Singh – and win back Punjab.
Signing up Harbhajan would be a big step forward for a party that won just three of 117 seats in 2017 after having won the 2012 election with then allies Akali Dal.
Harbhajan would also join Lok Sabha MP Gautam Gambhir as recent India cricketers in the BJP.
The Congress is determined to retain control of the state – one of very few that it rules outright – and being able to field Harbhajan, who played three matches for India with Sidhu, would be a big thing.
Victory will also be crucial to deflect future attacks from Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who has challenged the Congress’ primacy of place as the de facto opposition leader in her attempts to make a run at Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP in the 2024 Lok Sabha election.
Navjot Sidhu was this week made Chairman of the Congress’ election panel for Punjab; the all-important committee that will take all election-related decisions, also includes Chief Minister Charanjit Channi and former Punjab Congress chief Sunil Jakhar.
With input from PTI