As a national star campaigner for the Congress party, Sidhu has addressed nearly 100 political rallies and press conferences across the country. The party had put a chartered plane and helicopter at his disposal for campaigning. His press conferences have record number of hits, going up to three crore on Facebook alone. As many as 4.30 crore new faces have visited his Facebook page during the election campaign for the 2019 Lok Sabha election.
A strict vegetarian, he dislikes liquor to the extent that he does not like to have even look at a liquor bottle. “My father used to drink heavily. I believe he consumed my quota also and that is why I don’t touch it,” he says. He took time off to speak to SSD at Chandigarh for the National Herald. Excerpts from the interview:
You were a successful cricketer. How did you get into politics?
I had no interest in politics though my father was a politician besides being a top class criminal lawyer. My father had defeated the Akali giant Gurcharan Singh Tohra twice.
My entry in politics was accidental. I was in Pakistan to do commentary for a Test match series in 2004. A hotel attendant came running to inform there was a call from Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. When I took the receiver, there was this gentle voice telling me, “Sidhu, Kamar kas lo - you have to contest the election.”
I had received calls from several leaders including Arun Jaitley of the BJP earlier asking me to contest but I had always declined. But when Vajpayee Ji asked me to get ready, I was unable to say no. There were only two shirts and two pants in my bag when I walked across to Amritsar from Wagah. With these two shirts and two pants, I campaigned as a BJP candidate for 13 days and won the Lok Sabha election by a margin of 1.25 lakh votes.
In 2006, I was sent to jail by a court in an old case and I resigned immediately to uphold the dignity of democracy. In 2007, my sentence was stayed by the court and it was, perhaps, first case of its kind in the history of legal jurisprudence of the country. I contested the bye-election in 2007 and again won by a big margin. I was again elected to Lok Sabha in 2009 on the BJP ticket. But the party opted to field Arun Jaitley from Amritsar in 2014 and offered me a ticket from Kurukshetra but I refused to contest from any other place except Amritsar. After two years of Lok Sabha elections in 2016, I was nominated to Rajya Sabha by the BJP but I resigned from the Rajya Sabha soon after I resigned from the BJP. My wife too had been elected to the Punjab Vidhan Sabha in 2012 on a BJP ticket but she also resigned from the BJP when I quit the party.
Why did you quit the BJP?
BJP leaders wanted me to stay away from Punjab and not speak against Sukhbir Singh Badal and his father Parkash Singh Badal. I was insisting that the BJP should sever ties with SAD because people hated the SAD-BJP government which was dominated by the land mafia, cable, liquor and sand mafia in the state. BJP president Amit Shah was not ready to speak on drugs which had become a household issue in the state. Narendra Modi followed what Amit Shah would tell him and did not listen to what I was saying. That’s why although the BJP did give me a Rajya Sabha berth, I opted to quit and join the Congress. My father was a staunch Congressman.
Is there any difference between policies of the BJP and the Congress?
BJP believes in dividing people on religious, communal and community lines. It believes in creating social strife. It uses brute force to suppress freedom of the people, especially creative people such as writers, artists, painters, and members of the saffron brigade use violence to silence people. The BJP has reduced governance to “Dandatantar”. During the past five years, the people of the country had experienced the worst sort of dictatorship.
On the other hand, the Congress believes in taking along all the people of the country and does not interfere in the personal lives of people. Part of my secret of turning into a self-assured person is when I read the first volume of the ‘Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda’. That changed my life forever. I am a strong believer and have experienced what I say. I recite Gurbani- Mool Mantra- several times in a day and liberalism are its corner stones. The Congress does not brand those people, who disagree with it as anti nationals.
What’s your opinion about PM Narendra Modi and his promises to the people? What differences do you see in Rahul Gandhi vis-a-vis Modi?
PM Modi’s promises were hollow like a bamboo pole whereas Rahul Gandhi is a man of his word and believes in fulfilling what he promises. Modi made hundreds of promises to the people of the country before the last Lok Sabha elections but did not fulfil even a single one of them.
Modi and his team had no knowledge of how to handle India’s economy and ruined the country with their knee jerk decisions such as Demonetisation and the GST. Industry, business, farmers, traders, small shopkeepers and even daily wage workers suffered due to Demonetisation. Big businessmen ran away emptying the banks. Modi stood with corporate houses and the government wrote off bank loans worth more than ₹five lakh crore of the rich and the famous.
On the other hand, Congress governments in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh fulfilled promises made to farmers and other sections of the society before the last Assembly elections. If the Congress comes to power, I am confident it would fulfil the promise of assured minimum annual income of ₹72,000 made to 20% of the poorest Indians. Rahul Gandhi thinks about commoners whereas Modi thinks about 1% of the rich people in the country.
You seem to have taken to politics like a fish to water?
In politics, the crab mentality is pronounced. All efforts are made to pull down the ones who start climbing higher on the political ladder. It has happened with me as well and it often hurts. In my 15-year-long career as politician, efforts were made to impede my political career. But I believe in improving myself and never try to harm others. Being good and remaining good is hugely difficult in politics.
I am in politics to erase the ugly image of the politician. As of now, the image of the politician is ugly in the minds and souls of people. This is not just their perception but in many cases this is the reality. By maintaining ethics and morality in politics, this ugly image could be erased. I believe that is my goal.
If politics is such a cesspool, how have you coped with it?
My philosophy is that when in doubt, walk straight, walk the path of truth. Never compromise on moral values. Be accountable to your own conscience and not to the world.
Once journalist Barbara Walters asked American foreign policy Czar Henry Kissinger how he would like to be rated? Kissinger replied, “as a man who made a difference”. My objective is the same. I would like to be rated as a man who made a difference to lives of people of my state and my country. I enjoy doing good for others as I see in it service to humanity, a core component of the Sikh philosophy.