Calcutta, May 15: Almost 21 years ago, a young Sikh turning out for North Zone took 122 off the West Indies, in Amritsar, announcing his arrival in a big way.
He went on to play 51 Tests (3,202 runs) and 136 ODIs (4.414 runs), acquiring the reputation of an opener to be counted upon.
Two decades on, the Sikh returned to Amritsar and made an even bigger impact — this time, in the world of politics.
One is, of course, talking of Navjot Singh Sidhu who has added another label — giantkiller — to his collection which, at one time, included the terribly unfair ‘Strokeless Wonder’.
Clearly, notwithstanding that Patiala da puttar stamp, the BJP’s Sidhu (41 in October) connects well with Amritsar: Despite being a rookie, he unseated Congress heavyweight Raghunandan Lal Bhatia, six-time winner of a distinctly high-profile Lok Sabha seat.
Actually, it was a rout as Sidhu — apparently handpicked by “idol” Atal Bihari Vajpayee — trounced Bhatia by 98, 248 votes.
“I definitely expected to win, but the margin initially seemed unbelievable… It’s a terrific feeling, though,” Sidhu told The Telegraph when contacted on his cell this afternoon.
Significantly, with Kirti Azad defeated in Bhagalpur and Chetan Chauhan failing to regain Amroha, Sidhu will be the sole international cricketer in Parliament.
For now, he is on a par with Imran Khan and Arjuna Ranatunga.
Turning emotional, Sidhu added: “The Lord’s blessings have taken me to this stage and, really, my first thought on winning was that the Lord should give me strength to deliver…
“Amritsar isn’t just any other city or constituency… It has a rich heritage and is known across the globe… Yet, because of everything that hasn’t been done in the past, there are problems…”
Given Amritsar’s proximity to Pakistan, it’s no surprise that Sidhu is going to pitch for an “open border.” As he put it: “The way forward for this region is to have an open border… Trade must be without barriers…”
Insisting he didn’t make political speeches and that “promises, like eggs, are meant to be broken… only the effort matters,” Sidhu continued: “Some are under the impression I will do the disappearing act, but I’m in this for good… I’ll be opening an office (in Amritsar) and a cell number is going to be made available for my constituents… Basically, they will be able to reach me all 365 days in a year.”
Asked whether his (TV) commentary assignments are going to be curtailed, Sidhu replied: “It depends… Short tours won’t be a problem, but… However, you should remember my current identity is that of a commentator… I can’t ignore that.”
Reflecting on his win, Sidhu said: “The BJP’s track record came in handy and, then, the anti-incumbency factor did work in my favour… Moreover, I spoke from the heart and that touched a chord… The people who worked with me must get credit as, indeed, the youth of Amritsar…
“If I may add, the youth not just voted for me, but persuaded their parents to do the same… An experience can either leave you bitter or better… Where I’m concerned, the past few weeks have made me a better person… Eventually, good deeds speak for themselves, the tongue simply interprets.”
Sidhu’s priorities will be (a) calling for an “open border” with Pakistan; (b) offering incentives to industry for investing and generating employment; (c) improving roads and (d) bettering the telecommunications network.
Characteristically, he is confident his constituents won’t suffer because New Delhi is going to have a non-BJP government and Punjab already has one.
“I expect people to be broad-minded… Surely, Amritsar’s problems aren’t those of its MP only… It will be sad if the governments at the Centre and in the state begin to see Amritsar as an exclusively BJP-Akali territory… Given the status it enjoys, historically and in the religious world, Amritsar’s problems should be seen as the country’s,” Sidhu emphasised, passionately.
Incidentally, despite playing for India (with breaks) for almost 16 years, Sidhu just requested present-day star Yuvraj Singh to campaign. “As it turned out, Yuvi had other commitments and, so…” he remarked.
While Sidhu himself felled a top gun, his party turned in a shocking all-India performance. “Well, I didn’t expect this (BJP-NDA) defeat… But, the people’s verdict has been accepted — humbly, as it must always be so,” he maintained.
Sidhu, by the way, has begun his ‘thank-you’ rounds and is going to catch up with his kids (Karan and Rabia) at a later date.
“A short holiday with (doctor-wife) Navjot and the children' That, my friend, is out of the question… My work is only beginning,” he signed off.
Perhaps, Sidhu has taken guard for his longest innings…