Punjab minister Navjot Singh Sidhu on Tuesday defended hugging Pakistan Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa. “He talked about peace, what followed was an emotional moment,” said Sidhu, according to NDTV.
Sidhu, a former cricketer, was in Islamabad on Saturday to attend the swearing-in ceremony of Imran Khan as the country’s prime minister. Sidhu claimed he hugged Bajwa because the general told him that Pakistan may allow Sikh pilgrims direct access to Gurdwara Darbar Sahib Kartarpur next year.
“Without my asking, I received this precious gift,” he had 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 for sitting next to Masood Khan, the president of an area in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir that Islamabad calls “Azaad Jammu and Kashmir”. “My seat was changed at the last minute,” NDTV quoted him as saying. “I was told just five minutes before [the] ceremony that I was to be seated on front row. I sat wherever they made me sit.”
The minister pointed out that former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had travelled on a bus to Lahore and Prime Minister Narendra Modi made an unscheduled trip to Lahore in 2015 on his way back from an official visit to Afghanistan. During the tour, Modi had hugged former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. “No one is questioning PM [Narendra] Modi,” Sidhu said.
“Many people from Congress have spoken on this including, Captain Sahab [Amarinder Singh]”, Sidhu told ANI. “It’s a democracy and everyone has the right to their opinion.”
A case of sedition was filed against Sidhu on Monday. Lawyer Sudhur Ojha filed the case in Muzaffarpur’s Chief Judicial Magistrate court, claiming that Sidhu’s gesture hurt the people of the country. The court has admitted the case and will hear it next week.
Several political parties, including Sidhu’s own, have opposed his actions. On Sunday, Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh criticised Sidhu. “Every day, our jawans are getting martyred,” Amarinder Singh had said. “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 visit itself was questioned by several Indian politicians.
Sidhu ‘implicating India’
Bharatiya Janata Party spokesperson Sambit Patra blamed Sidhu for trying to “implicate India in all this by saying Indians have small hearts”. He demanded an answer from Congress President Rahul Gandhi on the matter and questioned if Gandhi was running “a parallel government”.
Patra alleged that there were people within the Congress party who were “trying to promote the interest of Pakistan in India”.