In early September, when Navjot Singh Sidhu met Priyanka Gandhi Vadra for the first time, he could not help commenting that she bore a stark resemblance to her grandmother, the late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. In return, Priyanka said he was her favourite sportsman during her childhood. This mutual admiration laid the foundation for the former opening batsman to form an alliance with Congress ahead of the 2017 assembly election in Punjab, sources in the party said.
Although Sidhu has not formally joined Congress, his wife, Navjot Kaur, and close aide and Olympian Pargat Singh will sign on the dotted line on November 28.
In fact, after the deal was struck with the Sidhus on Wednesday evening, it was Priyanka who made the first calls to Punjab Congress chief Amarinder Singh and Congress leader in charge of Punjab affairs Asha Kumari and asked them to meet the Sidhus, party sources said. Amarinder had initially agreed to the Sidhus joining Congress only if there were no preconditions but later softened his stand.
Political strategist Prashant Kishor had facilitated the initial meeting between the Sidhus and Priyanka. Kishor has known Sidhu from the time the ex-cricketer was a BJP MP from Amritsar and had campaigned in the 2012 assembly election in Gujarat, giving Narendra Modi a crucial win ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.
After the initial interaction, Kishor met Sidhu regularly at his Commonwealth Games Village home in Delhi. With AAP, too, wooing the TV celebrity, Priyanka and Congress veteran Ghulam Nabi Azad hosted a lunch for Sidhu at her Lodhi Estate residence, party sources said.
Before the deal was struck, Sidhu met Priyanka four times, leading to Sidhu, Azad, Priyanka and Kishor becoming more comfortable with one another. On one occasion, when Azad and Priyanka went to Sidhu’s home in Delhi, they were pleasantly surprised to discover that he always slept on the floor, sources in the Congress said.
Priyanka and Navjot Kaur, too, interacted regularly when the Gandhi family scion wanted to understand caste equations in Punjab and the significance of deras in select areas of the state
“Priyanka sees Sidhu as a secular man with wide public acceptance due to his aggressive brand of cricket and other interests. He will play a larger role in the Congress’s revival,” said a Congress party worker.