Cricketer-turned-politician and Punjab Local Bodies Minister Navjot Singh Sidhu’s “hug” with Pakistan’s Army chief and sharing stage with president of Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (POK) at the swearing-in ceremony for Imran Khan as the prime minister on Saturday has earned him wrath of opposition parties back home.
Sidhu told media in Pakistan he had been assured by Pakistan Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa that serious steps would be taken to open corridor for Kartarpur Sahib Gurdwara in Pakistan on the occasion of 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev ji.
However, back home, Sidhu came under fierce attack from non-Congress parties in Punjab. State BJP president Shwait Malik 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.
Dr Cheema said Sidhu had also fallen into the Pakistani trap of lending authenticity to its claim on Pakistan Occupied Kashmir by “sitting cheek-by-jowl with POK premier Masood Khan”.
Haryana Health Minister Anil Vij termed Sidhu’s presence at the ceremony an “act of disloyalty” towards India which “will not be endorsed by any patriotic citizen” of the country.
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.”
Jakhar said that before creating a noise about Sidhu, BJP supporters should recall that late Atal Bihari Vajpayee has himself gone with a bus to Pakistan after attack on Parliament and after Kargil happened. “What 56-inch chest could not do, Sidhu has done. He has lent some hope. Now, it is up to Khan to rise to the occasion and prove to be a statesman. India was not even able to impress upon England to cancel London declaration of Referendum 2020.”
Meanwhile, talking to the Pakistani media after attending the ceremony, Sidhu said, “I was not expecting it, but Pakistan Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa told me they had been considering to open Kartarpur corridor on the occasion of 550th birthday anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev. I was surprised by his words and hugged him for that.”
“Imran Khan, my dear friend, has said they will walk two steps if one step is taken by India. I will make efforts to convince authorities in India to take that first step. Both Punjabs can earn great profit by opening borders. Both Punjab can achieve that in six years with open borders which they couldn’t achieve in 60 with closed borders,” he said.
“I have been planning to bring Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh along on holy procession to mark 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev ji,” said Sidhu.