Sidhu on the firing line over his Pakistan visit

Amidst all the brouhaha over Navjot Singh Sidhu’s visit to attend Imran Khan’s oath ceremony, Sidhu said it was the message of love he took to Pakistan, writes RAJENDRA KHATRY

The visit of Cricketer turned politician and Minister Local government, Tourism, Cultural Affairs and Museums, Punjab, Navjot Singh Sidhu to Islamabad in Pakistan to attend the swearing-in ceremony of Prime Minister Imran Khan raised a furore in the political circles in India with the BJP and several other political parties making a scathing attack on him. Even his Congress party was unsparing. A man from Muzaffarpur in Bihar even filed a case of sedition against Sidhu.

Sidhu incidentally, not just sat next to Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) ‘president’ during the swearing ceremony, but was also seen hugging Pakistan’s Army Chief. India, apparently does not recognise the entity of PoK and the BJP’s antipathy was natural. The hugging of Pakistan Army Chief General, Qamar Javed Bajwa and, later sitting along with PoK president was seen in a very poor light. This happened at a time when India has broken talks with Pakistan due to its frequent firing on the borders and its clandestine terrorist attacks in Jammu and Kashmir.

So incensed was the BJP over this development that it went on to describe Sidhu’s visit, his hugging Pakistan Army General Bajwa and sitting next to the Pak Occupied Kashmir (PoK) President as ‘shameful’. The BJP also questioned Sidhu’s visit to Pakistan when India was mourning the death of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

Haryana’s Health and Sports Minister Anil Vij went on to describe Navjot Singh Sidhu as a Pakistani agent. “Navjot Sidhu is behaving like an agent of Pakistan in India,” tweeted Anil Vij to express his loath and disgust with his visit and behaviour. Vij said the Congress leader, instead of feeling sorry had brazenly defended his action and at the same time also questioned Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Pakistan earlier.

Sidhu, he said, is also heaping praises on Pakistan. Even Pakistan’s newly elected Prime Minister has defended him. These are enough proof that Sidhu is behaving like a Pakistani agent, accused Vij. “This is an act of disloyalty towards India and cannot be tolerated,’’ said Vij. The Haryana minister also demanded an explanation from the Congress party over its member’s behaviour.

Sidhu was under fire not just from the BJP and others, but from his own party men as well. Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh also disapproved of Punjab minister Navjot Singh Sidhu’s act of hugging the Pakistan army chief.  Capt Amarinder Singh said it was certainly not a nice gesture from Sidhu and he should have avoided indulging in such an action. He said Pakistan has refused to mend its ways and Indian soldiers are dying everyday on the borders due to Pakistan’s firing.

Navjot Singh Sidhu’s colleague in the Punjab cabinet Tripat Rajinder Singh Bajwa also disapproved Sidhu’s action and said that he should apologise for hugging the Pakistan army chief. He said Sidhu was his senior and as such he cannot force him to say sorry. Bu he went on to add as a suggestion that Sidhu can say sorry to the families of martyrs who expressed unhappiness over Sidhu’s action.

No less sparing was Punjab BJP chief Shwait Malik who referred to Sidhu’s action as ‘anti-national’. While hugging Pakistani army chief did Sidhu forget the Indian soldiers killed everyday by that country. Did he even forget that the Pakistani troops beheaded our Indian soldiers. And then on top of all this Sidhu sat with the head of PoK and hugged their army chief. Sidhu, he charged, has put the dignity of the country at risk. This should be condemned in the worst possible terms, said Malik. The Punjab BJP chief demanded an apology from Navjot Sidhu over his act.

Shiromani Akali Dal spokesperson and former minister Daljit Singh Cheema also came down heavily on Sidhu. When the entire country was mourning the death of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Sidhu and no officials functions were being held for a week, Sidhu had no compunction in attending the official ceremonial function in a foreign country.’’ This was  going against the decorum by a minister of one of the states, said Cheema. Further condemning  Sidhu’s act, Daljit Singh Cheema said that sitting next to PoK head and hugging army chief sent a wrong message to the Indian armed foces and Sidhu should realize his mistake.

Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which happens to be the main opposition party in Punjab also condemnd Sidhu’s act. Harpal Cheema, AAP MLA and leader of opposition after Sukhpal Singh Khaira was recently removed from thepost, said Sidhu’s act of hugging the army chief deserves condemnation. Reacting to the issue AAP MLA and senior advocate H S Phoola said any Sikh would have hugged Pak army chief when he told Sidhu about their desire to open the Kartarpur Sahib corridor during Guru Nanak’s 550th Parkash Utsav soon. There is no reason for people to criticise Sidhu on this issue said Phoolka.

But BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra wondered in what capacity Navjot Singh Sidhu attended the oath taking ceremony of Pakistan’s Prime Minister. Condemning Sidhu’s move, Patra said the Congress leader hugged those same people who were responsible for terrorist acts in India. He questioned if Sidhu take permission from the Congress party before going to Pakistan to attend Imran Khan’s swearing-in ceremony?

Even senior BJP leader from Bihar Shatrughan Sinha defended Sidhu.

He said there was nothing wrong neither any scope for controversy over Sidhu’s action. He said even Late Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Narendra Modi hugged their Pakistani counterparts during their visits to that country. 

However, even as the national parties and their leaders condemned Sidhu, Punjab Congress party president Balram Jakhar defended him. He said the BJP must understand and respect the spirit behind Sidhu’s move. Sidhu is a friend of Imran Khan. Both played cricket together. People should not forget that even Atal Bihari Vajpayee had held talks with Pakistan even after the Kargil war, said Jakhar. He said no one was talking about the real issue of possibility of opening of the Kartarpur corridor while attacking Sidhu. The country will soon be celebrating the 550the birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev ji, he said.

On his part, Sidhu has defended his move to go to Pakistan and attend Prime Minister Imran Khan’s oath ceremony.  Amidst all the brouhaha over his visit he said he took the message of love to Pakistan and hoped that after the accession of Imran khan to the post of the Prime Minister, relations between the two nations will improve. He said hugging General Bajwa was just a natural and emotional response to the statement of Pakistan’s army chief that they were making plans for opening the Kartarpur Gurdwara for Sikh pilgrims near Lahore.