The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Sidhu speaks in Amritsar voice
- ‘I am not a sleeping pill. I will project your joys and sufferings’

Amritsar, May 6: Imagine an entire city, even a district, speaking like Navjot Singh Sidhu.

Funny, or fraught with danger, the prospect might look to outsiders — cricket commentator Harsha Bhogle was not available for comment — but some Amritsaris think Sidhu is speaking their language and not they his.

Tarlochan, a resident of Tallisaab in Amritsar city, says: “We now have someone who speaks and behaves likes us.”

So what was it Sidhu said that drew this approbation' “I say on stage what I feel in my heart,” the former cricketer with the torrid tongue was telling the gathering.

“I believe in high thinking. I do not tell lies. I have come to you holding the punj (torch) of truth. I bow at your feet. I will never desert you as my predecessor has done. I will act as your torchbearer,” he says to a thunderous round of applause.

Tongue-bearer may be more appropriate, but Sidhu’s words and the response they are getting are lashing “predecessor” Raghunandan Lal Bhatia, the Congress candidate and a former minister of state for external affairs who is the sitting MP.

Just because it’s Sidhu this contest is no laughing matter, Bhatia, who has contested 10 times, winning six, is telling his people. “It will not be a cakewalk this time. Celebrities are known to spring surprises,” Bhatia, double the age of his rival, said.

Bhatia is one of those leaders who had faced bullets in Punjab’s days of terrorism. But then Sidhu might say West Indian speedster Malcolm Marshall was no less a terror.

Cricketing past is helping Sidhu. Young boys waylay his convoy for a hug or a handshake. Little boys wait patiently next to makeshift stages in villages to get their bats autographed.

And when he stops to speak to some schoolchildren on their way back home, one of them says: “Papa kende hain ke tussi cricket sikhaoge sannu (My father told me you will teach us how to play cricket). If you say you will teach us, I will tell my parents to vote for you.”

Taken aback, Sidhu can do little than to agree. But adds, “I want to spread love,” and then plants a kiss on the forehead of a boy.

A cricket bat cuts both ways in the political field, the former Test player is realising. And the playing past is not always a passport to a political career.

The Congress has dug into the pitch of not so distant cricketing history and come up with the infamous 1996 incident of Sidhu walking out on the team then touring England after a tiff with then captain Azharuddin.

Why did he leave the team'

“The past, my friend, is a bucket of ashes,” Sidhu replied, dipping into his repertoire of phrases hitherto unknown in the English language.

Some would remark that his sayings on television as expert commentator have fetched him more fame than his strokes, including the sixes hit off spinners, on the cricket ground did.

Sidhu’s telly-talk has drawn guffaws from fellow commentators — more often they have been left speechless with amazement or outrage, feelings that audiences have shared.

He carries on in much the same manner in Amritsar, and no one so much as bats an eyelid.

“I don’t imitate people. If I start imitating others, I will lose my originality,” Sidhu tells his listeners. And no one, of course, will dare imitate him.

At Leharka, Tallisaab, Chaminda Devi, Majitha, Pakhalpura and dozens of villages and hamlets, the crowds are pouring into his meetings to hear his short speeches that begin and end with quotes from the Guru Granth Sahib that Sidhu knows, chapter and verse.

“I was told a politician is addressing a meeting. But I did not hear one. A true leader is one who does not make promises. Sidhu is a true leader,” said Nanki at Chaminda Devi.

Outsider he may be branded by the Congress — Sidhu is from Patiala — but the label may not be sticking.

“Amritsaris trust me and believe in me. Navjot Singh Sidhu is an outsider whom even his party, the BJP, abhors. May 10 will prove who is the heavyweight here,” says Bhatia.

The Congress candidate is not making up when he says even the party is not behind Sindhu. Former BJP chief Daya Singh Sodhi joined the Congress for being refused the ticket. The file containing Sidhu’s nomination papers mysteriously disappeared and was located only after central BJP leaders intervened.

Sidhu asks: “Am I not a Punjabi' Log kuch na kuch to kahenge. Somebody can come from Italy and be accepted. But I have become an outsider by coming from Patiala.”

Talking of “insider” Bhatia, he asks further: “What has he done for Amritsar' There has been no development anywhere. That is my only complaint against him (Bhatia).”

One common tactic in campaigning he never applies, and that is to make personal attacks. “My parents have taught me never to speak against elders nor hurt their sentiments.”

It’s an approach that has stumped the Congress, used to exchange of insults at poll time. And Amritsaris like it that way. The women, particularly.

Geeta, who had come with a group of 26 women from Wagah, said: “He does not attack rival parties as the others do. Does not use expletives. For the first time in years we felt at ease while attending a political meeting.”

And guess what' She gushed: “He’s handsome.”

Did someone see Sidhu blush' Or hear him mutter: “And this after the battering of weeks of 6 am to 11 pm campaigning!”

When all this is over, win or lose, Handsome promises to be back on television. “I will continue as a TV commentator even if I win. That is my identity.”

With that he retires for the day. “Tomorrow is another big dream.”

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