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For someone who sputtered onto the national stage as a “strokeless wonder” debuting for India against a West Indies in its prime in 1983, Navjot Singh Sidhu has certainly metamorphosed into a stroke-maker par excellence in the worlds he has inhabited over a storied career — cricket, where he emerged as India’s finest Test opener in the intervening period between Sunil Gavaskar and Virender Sehwag; as a cricket commentator and entertainment personality whose wisecracks and turns of phrase even prompted the coining of the term ‘Sidhuisms’; and politics, transitioning from a trophy acquisition for the Bharatiya Janata Party in 2004 to incumbent Minister in Punjab.

Yet Mr. Sidhu has always worn his weighty political resume lightly. The three-time parliamentarian thought nothing of confining himself to the Bigg Boss house in 2012, or playing second fiddle in comedian Kapil Sharma’s eponymous television shows. It shouldn’t surprise, then, that days into assuming office as Minister of Local Government, Tourism, Cultural Affairs, Archives and Museums, Mr. Sidhu has insisted that he’d continue appearing alongside Sharma.

The quirks of power

The Advocate General of Punjab’s opinion will eventually determine if the minister can indeed take the evening flight out of Chandigarh to Mumbai every Saturday. But whether his laughter escapades constitute a breach of ‘office of profit’ or not, Mr. Sidhu’s “what I do after 6 p.m. is nobody’s business” outburst throws up essential questions for our public sphere. It punctures the hubris around politics being a 24x7x365 vocation, something that has forced its practitioners to wrap a veil of secrecy around their downtime. At any rate, what’s ‘full-time ministership’ when the politician in power constantly alternates between governance agent and partyman caught in a permanent campaign?

Mr. Sidhu has also pitched the gig as an economic imperative, claiming his only earnings now were from this show. Given how ‘full-timers’ have made politics an avenue for personal aggrandisement and turned public office into a byword for rent-seeking, lassoing him with the ‘office of profit’ clause is just the kind of rule-book hypocrisy we could do without. Our politics needs space for entirely new imaginings, for mavericks who see it not from the lofty heights of public service but as a job to be done and be held to account at the hustings.

Critics, however, argue that Mr. Sidhu’s insistence is mere posturing for weightier portfolios. Having overplayed his hand with the Aam Aadmi Party after exiting the BJP last year, he has had to settle for much less. In trademark Congress style, even the question of who is the number two in the Cabinet has been suitably obfuscated with Mr. Sidhu being sworn in after Chief Minister Amarinder Singh and Health Minister Brahm Mohindra. If this is indeed a bargaining chip from Sherry, here’s a Sidhuism for solace: “Boss, make hay while things are going haywire.”

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Printable version | Jan 22, 2022 2:39:35 AM |

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