Former BJP MP Navjot Singh Sidhu on Monday said he gave up his Rajya Sabha seat as he was repeatedly asked to stay away from Punjab which he was not prepared to do.
Addressing a crowded press conference here, Sidhu, however, declined to spell out his political future and ducked questions on whether he planned to join the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).
"I resigned from the Rajya Sabha because I was told to not turn towards Punjab and stay away from Punjab... Why should I stay away from Punjab and on whose wishes?" a visibly angry Sidhu asked.
Saying he believed in "rashtra dharma", the cricketer-turned-politician said: "How could I ignore my roots and betray my homeland? Should I stay away from Punjab just to cater to personal interests of some people?"
Sidhu, who was not allowed by the Bharatiya Janata Party to contest from Amritsar in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, did not take the name of any political party or leader in his nearly 10-minute media address that was punctuated by Urdu couplets.
Ever since Sidhu submitted his resignation from the Rajya Sabha on July 18, the opening day of Parliament's monsoon session, there has been intense speculation that he might team up with the AAP, which has emerged as a major player in Punjab ahead of assembly elections due next year.
While AAP leaders have hinted that Sidhu would campaign for it, the Congress has repeatedly urged him to join it. On its part, the BJP has not expelled Sidhu or his wife.
Sidhu said he had been elected to the Lok Sabha from Amritsar thrice since 2004 and pointed out that in 2009 he was the lone BJP victor in 51 Lok Sabha constituencies in northern India.
He claimed he was offered a Lok Sabha seat by the BJP from Kurukshetra in Haryana and west Delhi but he refused to contest from outside Punjab. He made it clear that he could not be placated by a Rajya Sabha berth.
Taking no names, Sidhu said: "This was not the first time I was being told to stay away from Punjab... This is for the third or fourth time."
"What is my mistake?" asked the former BJP MP who has had repeated run-ins with Punjab's ruling Akali Dal, a BJP ally.
The former India cricket opener, now a popular TV personality, said no party was "above or bigger than Punjab".
"The people of Amritsar have given me so much affection and respect. I cannot betray their trust."
Pressed by journalists to say if he was joining the AAP as its chief ministerial candidate, he replied: "That's not the issue. You will see Sidhu wherever Punjab's interests lie."
When journalists persisted, he replied in English: "I only want to serve Punjab and Amritsar. That's all."
After Sidhu's press conference, the Congress reiterated that he was welcome to join the party. "For every secular nationalist person, Congress is the party," party leader Pratap Singh Bajwa said.
The AAP made no formal reaction, but Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal tweeted: "Sidhu would have spoken against drugs if he went to Punjab. BJP prevented him. Who was BJP trying to protect? Shocking."
R.P. Singh of BJP demanded to know why Sidhu accepted a Rajya Sabha seat if he was so cut up with the party and why he was leaning towards Kejriwal after having criticized him in the past.
The Akali Dal said it played no role in the BJP's decision not to nominate him from the Amritsar Lok Sabha seat in 2014 but quickly added that his chances of winning were slim.