Updated: August 21, 2018 3:16:07 pm
Facing backlash at home for hugging Pakistan’s Army General Qamar Javed Bajwa, Punjab minister Navjot Singh Sidhu Tuesday said his visit to the neighbouring country was not political and he went there on the invitation of his “friend” Imran Khan.
Defending his action, Sidhu told reporters that it was just a “normal human reaction”.
“It is just a normal human reaction. Will you show your back if someone offers the hand of friendship?” he said.
He also raised former prime minister Atal Bihar Vajpayee and present Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s outreach to Pakistan. “In the past also efforts for peace have been made, the late Vajpayee ji had taken ‘dosti bus’ to Lahore, invited Musharraf. PM Modi invited Nawaz Sharif to oath-taking, he also went suddenly to Lahore,” he said.
When asked about Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh criticising him for hugging Pakistan’s Army chief, he said: “Many people from Congress have spoken on this including Captain Sahab. Its a democracy and everyone has the right to their opinion,” he said.
Sidhu added that he went to Pakistan only after taking permission from the government and completing the required paperwork. “I received invitation 10 times. Then I sought permission from Indian government, I didn’t get permission and was waiting. Two days after Pakistan government gave visa, Sushma Swaraj Ji herself called me in the night and informed that I have been given permission,” he said.
Sidhu also said that talks are the only way to end the conflict between the two countries.
Meanwhile, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan thanked Sidhu for attending his swearing-in ceremony and said that those who are targetting the Punjab minister in India are doing a “great disservice to peace” in the subcontinent.
“I want to thank Sidhu for coming to Pak for my oath taking. He was an ambassador of peace and was given amazing love and affection by people of Pak. Those in India who targeted him are doing a great disservice to peace in the subcontinent — without peace our people can’t progress,” he tweeted.
“To move forward Pakistan and India must dialogue and resolve their conflicts incl Kashmir: The best way to alleviate poverty and uplift the people of the subcontinent is to resolve our differences through dialogue and start trading,” he added.
Sidhu had come under fierce attack from non-Congress parties in Punjab. State BJP president Shwait Malik had said, “We have strong objection over Sidhu going to Pakistan while the nation was paying tributes to former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, and that too to attend the oath-taking ceremony. He even hugged Pakistan Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa at the function. It is anti-national.”
“… It is disrespect to our Sidhu under fire from BJP, SAD, Cong defends soldiers killed by Pakistan Army’s on the border. Sidhu was not only one to receive the invitation. But he was the only one to go to Pakistan. Other players like Kapil Dev and Sunil Gawaskar didn’t go to Pakistan due to the ongoing tense relationship between India and Pakistan,” said Malik.
In a statement here, SAD spokesman Dr Daljit Singh Cheema said Sidhu’s conduct was unbecoming of a minister. “His public gestures have not only hurt martyrs’ families but also countrymen in general”.
Dr Cheema said Sidhu’s visit to Pakistan at a time when the nation was in mourning was in bad taste. “Sidhu went ahead with the visit and violated all known protocols of not attending any celebratory function during official periods of mourning”.
The Akali leader said it was up to Congress president Rahul Gandhi to answer why he had allowed Sidhu to make such a spectacle of himself.
The Punjab Congress, however, defended Sidhu. PPCC president Sunil Kumar Jakhar said one should respect the sportsman spirit exhibited by Sidhu in accepting Khan’s invite. “India has nothing to lose in Sidhu’s diplomatic act. Those who are creating a shindig at Sidhu attending the ceremony should realise that it was a sportsman inviting another. Sidhu has risen to the occasion, showed a large heart by accepting the invite. Now, the ball is in the court of Khan. It is to be seen whether Khan turns to be a true statesman or just ends up being a puppet in the hands of Pakistani Army.”
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