Even as Punjab Local Bodies Minister Navjot Singh Sidhu found himself sidelined and facing flak from his Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, opposition parties Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) for his friendly overtures to Pakistan, he has emerged as a hero for several Sikh organisations, the social media, as well as for some in his party.
While the BJP, the Akalis and the Congress have all claimed credit for the Kartarpur corridor initiative, no one has yet praised Sidhu for his ice-breaking role on the issue when he went to Prime Minister Imran Khan’s swearing-in ceremony in August. Instead, the RSS called him a “traitor”. Amarinder too has been playing down Sidhu’s role. Amarinder’s aide and Rural Development Minister Tripat Rajinder Singh Bajwa, said that Sidhu’s participation in the foundation laying ceremony at Kartarpur Sahib on Wednesday was “a personal visit. It had nothing to do with the state government.” But Sidhu has found several supporters in unlikely quarters.
The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has credited him with “initiating the dialogue” between two countries that finally led to “opening of Kartarpur corridor.” Leader of Opposition and AAP leader Harpal Singh Cheema told the Indian Express: “Let us not do politics over this issue. This has been an issue for last 71 years. Finally, the corridor is opening. It should be taken positively. Dialogue is important. It has helped several big warring nations. In this case everybody knows the dialogue was started by Sidhu. Who knows this becomes the basis of other positive developments between two countries.”
A radical Sikh organisation, All India Sikh Students Federation (AISSF), not only hailed Sidhu but has even demanded the title of Fakhr-e-Quam from Shiromani Gurdwara Prabhandhak Committee (SGPC) for him. The Federation’s demand went viral on the social media, forwarded countless times. Karnail Singh Peer Mohammad of the Federation said, “Sidhu is courageous enough to face ire of everybody in the country. He went and he came back with a promise. He is a bridge for the two countries. He used his friendship for the country’s interest,” said Peer Mohammad.
Dal Khalsa, another organisation of radical Sikhs has hailed Sidhu. According to Kanwarpal Singh, its spokesperson, “We call it a goodwill mission of Sidhu. He has taken a bold stand, despite his Chief Minister taking an unreasonable stand. In the backdrop of an anti-Indian perception of Pakistan, Sidhu listened to his heart and
Within the Congress, while Amarinder has taken a stand against Sidhu and his visit to Pakistan, the state Congress unit, Sidhu’s political outfit, has not even claimed credit for opening of the Kartarpur corridor. On the other hand, SAD and BJP are claiming credit on the plea that the Centre had initiated steps to take up the issue with Pakistan.
However, only Tripat Bajwa came out against Sidhu openly after Amarinder, but no other party leader criticised him. PPCC president Sunil Kumar Jakhar has been praising Sidhu ever since his first visit to Pakistan. Jails Minister Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa has also not said anything against Sidhu and has rather stuck to his stand saying, “I will only say that I would have gone to Kartarpur Sahib had I got an invite. I would have gone there as a Sikh.”
Internally, most Congress MLAs feel that opening of Kartarpur corridor subsequently would be their party’s credit. The issue is dominating all the meetings and conversations of party legislators. “Who does not know it all started after Sidhu’s visit to Pakistan. There may be any design behind it but people especially the Sikhs are giving all credit to Sidhu. You ask yourself. Who would you give this credit to? “ asked a party MLA, who represents a segment considered panthic.
Another party MLA said: “We cannot say anything to the Chief Minister. When the leader has taken a decision to bash Pakistan, we are keeping quiet. We may not like Sidhu but that does not change the truth. We all know that people are giving all the credit to Sidhu. The sentiment of most of the Sikhs is now connected to Sidhu.”
Sikhs abroad have been congratulating Sidhu through their posts on social media. In one such message, Harbaksh Singh Mangat, president of Sikh Centre of Oregon (Portland Metro Gurudwara), on a WhatsApp message said, “This is amazing history unfolding our lifetime when special access to birth place of Guru Nanak Dev Ji is being opened to all visitors from India. It’s a historic moment indeed for both the countries and a stepping stone towards better relations. Navjot Singh Sidhu and Imran Khan have a defining role to this. Kudos to both sides of the government”.
“Sidhu is neither PM, nor CM, but he made a dream come true of millions of Sikhs due to his friendship with newly elected Pakistan PM in his ‘Sidhuism’ style, “ NRI SK Khurana from Canada wrote on his Facebook, praising the cricketer-turned-politician for his “jadoo ki jhappi”.
Even Congress leader Shashi Tharoor tweeted praising Sidhu. “@sherryontopp has been passionately pursuing the Kartarpur corridor issue. Today’s news is a victory for him as well as for my ExtAffs Cmt colleague @GurjeetSAujla who first guided the Cmt to DeraBabaNanak. Tribute also to MEA & the Pak Govt who made this happen.”.
Daljit Singh Khalsa, former General Secretary of Stockton (California state) Gurdwara Sahib, said: “Sidhu did great work on both religious and Indo- Pak relations fronts which forced the Centre government to take an early decision on this which is directly related to Sikh religion.”