Imran and Sidhu: Conjoined twins on and off-field, writes Mufeed Rizvi

Mufeed Mahdi RizviUpdated: Thursday, March 31, 2022, 09:23 AM IST
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Representative Image | PTI

Navjot Singh Sidhu was comfortably batting on 85 in the second innings of the first Test at the National Stadium, Karachi. It was India’s tour of Pakistan in the year 1989. After being bowled out for a duck in the first innings, Sidhu was eyeing his third century.

However, Pakistan captain and pacer Imran Khan denied him that pleasure after Sidhu was packed off to the pavilion with a catch from Ramiz Raja off the bowling of his captain for 85. Fifteen short of his third Test ton. This was the first instance of Sidhu-Imran rivalry that, years later, turned into revelry. In his entire cricketing career, Sidhu has been dismissed by Imran thrice on the cricketing field. From cricketing rivals, Sidhu and Imran turned into political friends.

One went on to become the Prime Minister, the other could only dream of becoming a chief minister. Currently, the political career of the two cricketers is in turmoil. By an uncanny coincidence, Sidhu lost the recently-concluded assembly polls, while Imran is facing a no-confidence motion in Pakistan’s National Assembly. Sidhu has always acknowledged his affection for his former on-field rival.

The bonding between the two has been so enduring that Sidhu, who switched over from the Bharatiya Janata Party to the Congress, was invited to the oath ceremony of Imran Khan when he was elected Prime Minister of Pakistan in 2018.

Sidhu received a lot of brickbats when he went to witness history-in-the-making at Islamabad. The two had formed a mutual admiration in society. If Sidhu called Imran his ‘elder brother’,the Pakistani Prime Minister went ga-ga praising Sidhu for supporting the Kartarpur corridor.

If Sidhu, once an aspiring Punjab Chief Minister, was routed in the recent Punjab Assembly polls, Khan’s days as Pakistani Prime Minister seem to be numbered, going by the last minute political developments on Wednesday evening.

With his allies reportedly ready to join the opposition in seeking a no confidence vote against Imran Khan, the cricketer could see himself ousted from the post by the end of this month. Sidhu, who is seen as the cause of political upheaval in the Punjab Congress, will need to change his wayward ways of addressing the state’s problems.

It was his tirade against Capt. Amarinder Singh, just months before the assembly polls, perhaps forced the Congress to overplay its hand and appoint Charanjit Singh Channi as chief minister close to the polls. It resulted in a huge embarrassment for Congress.

From 77 seats won in 2017,the number diminished to 18 in 2022. Not only did Channi lose the two seats he contested, Sidhu too was ousted in the Amritsar East constituency by a nondescript AAP candidate Jeevan Jyot Kaur, losing by a margin of over 6000 votes. Notably, Amritsar East was considered Sidhu’s home turf. He was thrice elected Member of Parliament on a BJP ticket, and also notched a 42,000- margin win when he contested in the 2017 assembly polls as a Congress candidate. Meanwhile, across the border, Sidhu’s friend is under fire from the opposition.

When he promised to win the cricket World Cup as captain, he delivered. That 1992 World Cup created euphoria in Pakistan, whose national self-esteem hangs by a slender thread called cricket, propelling himinto one of themost popular figures in Pakistan.

So, when he entered politics and pitched for the country’s top job, Imran promised to run Pakistan as an Islamic state. The cricketer had also endearedhimself to the all-powerful Pakistan military. His anti-West stance made in-roads into the voters' hearts and they came outto vote for him and his allies.

He made the people of Pakistan believe that the West is responsible for all of the country's problems, be it economic or social. He talked about making Pakistan less dependent on the West. Imran convinced the people that the politicians in Pakistan were highly corrupt and only he could save the country from corruption. For the people, the solutions to their problems were served on a platter and they found their World Cup hero guiding them to another victory --this time on the political field. Imran’s growing popularity attracted many allies who decided to lend support to this untested vision of political reforms.

The allies felt it was the right time to join the former cricketer’s bandwagon. However, during his four-year rule inflation spiked from 5% in 2018 to 12% in 2022. The Pakistani rupee also took a hit,its value falling drastically. People complained of erratic and poor power supply. Pakistan had been pushed into darkness.

The castle stacked from a pack of cards began crumbling as the winds of dissent started blowing stronger. Imran found he was entrenched in the same system he was fighting against. There were grave corruption allegations against his allies and to save his government, the Prime Minister and ‘saviour’ of Pakistan could barely move an inch and take action. He had developed feet of lead and remained rooted to the crease.

The old cases of corruption were put in a deep freeze. New criminal cases were filed against the very leaders whom he had projected as crusaders against nepotism and graft. Imran now finds himself on a difficult pitch. This time it is the opposition that has swung away from him making it tough for him to play the role of a Prime Minister.

The weakening allies have confined him to the non-striker's end; while the striking opposition, on the other end, has convinced the allies to switch sides.

The writing was on the wall last week itself when three coalition partners of his government, Muttahida Qaumi Movement Pakistan (MQM-P), Pakistan Muslim League Quaid (PML-Q), and Balochistan Awami Party (BAP), decided to join the opposition and support the no-confidence motion. "Imran Khan is a player who fights till the last ball. There will be no resignation. There will be a match, both friends and foes will watch it," Minister Fawad Chaudhary tweeted. The last ball is awaited.

Well, yes. But Imran should remember that these are slog overs. If he bowls well he could change the course of the game, but then he could be hit out of the park as well. While Sidhu may have lost his wicket in Indian politics, for now, Imran is bowling on a pitch more conducive for the batters in the opposition.

Everyone will agree that Imran has a bigger pie at stake. If he loses, it could mean exile, as is the case with so many Pakistani leaders

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