The opposition in Punjab on Saturday severely criticised Congress leader Navjot Singh Sidhu for his conduct during his visit to Pakistan to attend the swearing-in ceremony of former cricketer Imran Khan as the prime minister.

Sidhu, a former India cricketer, was seen hugging Pakistan Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa, which triggered a controversy. The visit itself was also questioned by several Indian politicians. Sidhu, a minister in the Congress-led Punjab government, was among several special guests invited for the ceremony.

‘Unacceptable act,’ says BJP

“Sidhu’s visit to Pakistan is shameful,” the Punjab unit chief of the Bharatiya Janata Party Shwait Malik said, PTI reported. “On one side, the Pakistan Army was involved in attacking our soldiers at the border and on the other side Sidhu was hugging the Army chief. Does it mean he was thanking him for killing our jawans?”

Sidhu is an “opportunist” who put the nation’s dignity at risk, Malik claimed, adding that he should apologise for the “unacceptable act.”

BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra also raised objections about the seating arrangements. Sidhu was seated next to Masood Khan, the president of the part of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir that Islamabad calls “Azad Jammu and Kashmir”.

“At the beginning of the ceremony, Masood Khan was seated a few rows back but was later shifted next to Sidhu,” he told reporters in Delhi, according to The Hindu. “Was he aware that this had been done? Does he approve of this? We feel Sidhu should have known better and he should have objected.”

“Navjot Singh Sidhu says that even if every part of his body could speak he would not be able to thank Pakistan enough,” Patra added. “We want to know for what is Sidhu thanking Pakistan? For spreading terror in India?” Patra also asked if the Congress will suspend Sidhu for hugging General Bajwa.

Other opposition parties

The Shiromani Akali Dal claimed Sidhu “broke the decorum” by visiting Pakistan. “The whole nation is observing seven-day mourning in the wake of the death of former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee,” party spokesperson Daljit Singh Cheema said. “At this point of time, it becomes necessary that no minister should attend ceremonial functions. By visiting Pakistan, Sidhu has broken the decorum.”

“Though it is Sidhu’s personal visit to Pakistan, if he hugged Pakistan Army chief, then it is condemnable,” said Aam Aadmi Party MLA and Leader of Opposition Harpal Singh Cheema.

Sidhu clarifies

Sidhu, however, claimed that he hugged Bajwa because the general told him that Pakistan may allow Sikh pilgrims direct access to Gurdwara Darbar Sahib Kartarpur next year, the Hindustan Times reported. “Without my asking, I received this precious gift,” he said. “General Bajwa hugged me and said they were thinking of opening the Kartarpur route during Guru Nanak’s 550th birth anniversary celebrations. I had been thinking our chief minister [Amarinder Singh] would take this up with Pakistan, but the general made this gracious gesture on his own. He also said we want peace.”