Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh on Sunday criticised his cabinet minister Navjot Singh Sidhu for hugging Pakistan Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa during his visit to Pakistan. Sidhu, a former Indian cricketer, was in Islamabad on Saturday to attend the swearing-in ceremony of former cricketer Imran Khan as the country’s prime minister.
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. Sidhu was seated next to Masood Khan, the president of the part of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir that Islamabad calls “Azad Jammu and Kashmir”.
“Every day, our jawans are getting martyred,” Amarinder Singh said, according to NDTV. “To hug their Chief General Bajwa... I am against this. The fact is that the man should understand that our soldiers are being killed. My own regiment lost one major and two jawans a few months ago and everyday somebody is being shot.”
The chief minister further said that Sidhu attended the oath-taking ceremony in his personal capacity and it had nothing to do with his government or the Congress party. “About him [Sidhu] being seated next to Pakistan-occupied Kashmir’s president, maybe he [Sidhu] didn’t know who he [Khan] was,” The Times of India quoted Amarinder Singh as saying.
On Saturday, Sidhu 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.”
Sidhu was also criticised by the Opposition parties in Punjab. The Bharatiya Janata Party called Sidhu an “opportunist” who put the nation’s dignity at risk. 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.”