Needless controversy

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For the past couple of days, there is a needless furor about Navjot Singh Sidhu’s Pakistan visit. While some are questioning why at all did he go for the swearing-in ceremony of Pakistan’s new prime minister Imran Khan (even though Sidhu was invited by Khan as a personal friend), others are flaying him for having hugged the Pakistan Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa twice during the ceremony. Still others are irked because Sidhu was seated next to the President of Pakistan-administered-Kashmir. While there is no reasonable logic in the arguments put forth by the people critical of Sidhu’s visit, but what is really intriguing is that he has even been flayed by his own party colleagues – Punjab chief minister Capt. Amrinder Singh being the most prominent one.

Capt. Amrinder Singh has problem with the hugs Sidhu exchanged with General Bajwa. For the sake of argument, let’s replace Sidhu with Amrinder Singh as Imran Khan’s personal friend in the swearing-in ceremony. And then, Gen Bajwa while greeting all the guests sitting in the front row (as he did) reaches Amrinder Singh. Would Amrinder Singh behave any differently? Yes certainly. He would promptly stand up and unlike Sidhu possibly also salute Gen Bajwa, because even if he has served in the Indian Army just for a brief period of three years (1963-1966), Army ethos and culture demands that he shows respect to a superior rank – in this case a four star General. During war it may be different, but swearing-in ceremony of a prime minister even of an “enemy country” is certainly not war.

So the Punjab chief minister’s criticism of Sidhu is outright illogical, as is that of all others suffering terrible food-in-mouth disease. By the way it has all along been a problem with the Congress party and its leaders. Faced with the loud narcissistic jingoism of the BJP and its rightwing allies, which they have tactfully draped in the wrappers of nationalism and patriotism, the Congress party has long ceased to take principled stand on almost anything. This party seems to have lost its spine and that’s why that it buckles every now and then even to the slightest of pressures of the street sentiment, not to mention the calibrated anxieties strategically stoked by the political adversary in its rank and file.

Coming to the foot-in-mouth syndrome, if one goes by the sheer number of such people donning TV and social media these days, then it is safe to conclude that the malady has already become into an epidemic in most parts of India. And what is still more disconcerting is that instead of helping the people affected by this malaise, the state is somehow seen encouraging and patronizing the diseased lot by sanctifying their ailment as an expression of “patriotism”.

It is really unfortunate that a window of opportunity that has been opened by Sidhu’s Pakistan visit, howsoever small and inconsequential it may seem today, is not even being seriously considered for its pluses and positives. Countries invest lot of time and resources on keeping the channels of communication open though varied unofficial tracks even during the worst of times. India and Pakistan are no exception to this. The only hope that prompts and sustains such engagements is that they may at some point of time bear fruit by creating conditions for the people in power to negotiate and ink some meaningful agreements.

The personal friendship that Sidhu or for that matter certain other Indian cricketers like Kapil Dev and Sunil Gavaskar or some matinee stars and other people enjoy with Imran Khan, who now matters the most in Pakistan and is in the driving seat of that country, is a rare asset which needs to be treated as such. Wisdom demands that country’s foreign policy experts jump in and seize this opportunity, build up on the personal relations of these people to transform the international relations between the two countries to a level where cooperation and not antagonism, mutual trust and not its deficit is seen as the new normal. Those stoking needless controversies because of their pro-right bias or stereotypical thinking, and certainly owing to their absolute lack of understanding of the nuances of international politics and diplomacy, must be asked to shut up. For, their hate-mongering is far more dangerous and disastrous for the subcontinent than any and all nuke weapons.

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