NEW DELHI: Roughly a year ago, Congress leader Navjot Singh Sidhu was eyeing the chief minister’s post in Punjab after successfully dislodging Captain Amarinder Singh. The cricketer-turned-politician had set his eyes on Chandigarh — the highest seat of power in the state. But as fate would have it, the Punjab Congress leader now finds himself just 70km away, lodged at a prison in Patiala.
The 58-year-old former Punjab Congress president on Friday surrendered before a court in Patiala, a day after the Supreme Court sentenced him to one-year rigorous imprisonment in a 1988 road rage case.
Sidhu surrendered shortly after 4pm and was taken for the mandatory medical examination, conducted at the Mata
Hospital. After the medical check-up, he was lodged in the Patiala jail where he is likely to spend the next year.
Indeed, the political fortunes of the former cricketer have witnessed a massive downturn compared to a year ago, when he was enjoying the support of dozens of MLAs and was the potential face of the Congress’s Punjab campaign.
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34-year-old case comes back to haunt Sidhu
In 1988, Sidhu and one of his associates Rupinder Singh Sandhu had allegedly hit one Gurnam Singh on his head following an altercation in Patiala.
Gurnam Singh, 65, later died.
Shortly after Singh’s death, Sidhu and his associate were booked on charges of murder.
In 1999, Sidhu was acquitted of the murder charges by a trial court. However, the Punjab high court reversed the verdict and held Sidhu and his co-accused guilty of culpable homicide not amounting to murder in December 2006. It sentenced them to three years in jail and imposed a fine of Rs 1 lakh each.
Both Sidhu and Sandhu filed an appeal in the Supreme Court, which stayed their conviction in 2007.
In 2018, the Supreme Court acquitted Sidhu of culpable homicide and convicted him of causing hurt in the road rage case. He was let off with a mere Rs 1,000 fine.
However, in February 2022, the apex court agreed to hear a plea seeking a review of its May 15, 2018 verdict.
Overturning its own decision, the top court on Thursday observed that any “undue sympathy” to impose an inadequate sentence would do more harm to the justice system and undermine the public confidence in the efficacy of law.
“In the given circumstances, tempers may have been lost but then the consequences of the loss of temper must be borne,” the court said, as it sentenced Sidhu to one-year imprisonment.
Reversal of fortunes
Sidhu’s sentencing and subsequent imprisonment come at a time when the political leader is struggling to stay relevant in a party that itself suffered a major rout in the recent Punjab elections.
Last year, after successfully engineering the removal of Amarinder, Sidhu was set to be the top Congress draw from Punjab. It was widely expected that the Congress would pick the fiery leader as its chief ministerial face in the elections.
However, the first blow came after the Congress not only picked then little-known Charanjit Channi for the top post but also persisted with him throughout the election campaign.
Congress’s reluctance to name the former cricketer as its CM face may have been a calculated move to avoid infighting, but it did cut Sidhu’s political ambition down to size.
After a drubbing in the ensuing polls, Sidhu was cast aside further as party chief Sonia Gandhi asked him – along with four other state Congress presidents – to resign from the post.
Since then, Sidhu had made several remarks against Channi, his party, the leadership and sometimes in favour of the Congress’s opponents (read current Punjab CM Bhagwant Mann).
The leader’s remarks have left many guessing about his political plans for the future.
Notably, in 2017, Sidhu had switched over to the Congress from the BJP ahead of the 2017 assembly polls.
However, with a 34-year-old case coming back to haunt him again, Sidhu’s political ambitions will likely remain in limbo for now.
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