Sidhu defends hug in Islamabad, accuses BJP of double standards
Chandigarh, Aug 21 : Under flak for hugging Pakistan’s army chief during his Islamabad visit, Punjab minister Navjot Singh Sidhu today hit back at the BJP, reminding it of trips to that country by Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Narendra Modi as prime ministers.
He defended hugging Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa at the swearing-in ceremony of Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan as an “emotional” response on learning that Sikh pilgrims may now be allowed to visit the Kartarpur shrine across the border.
“Why are there double standards?” he said at a press conference here.
“The then prime minister Atal ji went there with a message of friendship. Thereafter, the Kargil War took place. Five hundred twenty-seven Indian jawans attained martyrdom. Will you blame him?” he said.
“Then, Modi sahib went to Pakistan without even any official formalities and hugged former Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif. Will you not call him a patriot?” he said, referring to Narendra Modi’s surprise visit to Lahore in 2015.
The cricketer-turned-politician also asked the BJP why the Indian High Commissioner in Islamabad gifted a cricket bat to Imran Khan after he emerged as the prime minister-designate.
Navjot Sidhu was slammed by the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party and the Akali Dal, and criticised even by Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, for hugging Bajwa at Imran Khan’s swearing-in on August 18.
Sidhu said it was an “emotional” moment for him when Bajwa told him about the possibility of Pakistan allowing access to pilgrims from Dera Baba Nanak in Gurdaspur district to Kartarpur Sahib, about three kilometres away.
Sidhu said Bajwa had met him with “enthusiasm” when he spotted him in the front row at the Islamabad ceremony.
“Immediately, he told me they were making efforts to open the corridor from India’s Dera Baba Nanak to Kartarpur Sahib,” he said.
This, Sidhu said, was being done to mark the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev.
“This thing said by Gen Bajwa was an emotional moment for me and the result (the hug) was for everyone to see. After that brief meeting at the gathering, I had no meeting with Gen Bajwa,” the Congress leader said.
“Should I have turned my back on him?” he said, adding that his response was just “human reaction”.
Sidhu said he wanted to clarify that his Islamabad visit was not “political” and just in response to “a warm invitation from a friend”.
“That friend who went through immense hard work and struggle in life. The one who reached a position which is respected and holds the capability of changing the fate of crores of people,” he said.
The Punjab minister said crores of pilgrims have been waiting to pay obeisance at Kartarpur Sahib, the place where Guru Nanak Dev spent 18 years.
Sidhu said he is hurt over the criticism following his unplanned meeting with the general.
Chief Minister Amarinder Singh recently said, “I think that was wrong for him to have shown the affection he did for the Pakistani Army chief.”
Sidhu said Imran Khan’s invitation should be seen in a larger context, adding that he had sent out a message of friendship and peace.
He hoped India and Pakistan can settle their differences through talks and increase trade and other exchanges.
Sidhu called Imran Khan a friend who could help bring relief from “long-standing tension between the two nations”.
He said Pakistan is currently in an unfortunate state because of the terrorist outfits there and only a government with a strong political will can prevail over the “deteriorating situation”.