Congress leader Navjot Singh Sidhu on Thursday denied recognising the alleged Khalistani leader Gopal Singh Chawla after the latter posted a photo with the Punjab minister. The Khalistan movement seeks a separate homeland for the Sikh community.

Sidhu made the statement after returning from a visit to Pakistan. “They showered love so much there. Every day ten thousand pictures were clicked,” Sidhu said, according to PTI. “Among them who is Chawla or Cheema that I do not know.”

Chawla is the general secretary of the Pakistan Sikh Gurudwara Prabhandak Committee.

The Congress leader was in Pakistan to attend the foundation stone-laying ceremony of the Katarpur corridor project. The corridor will connect Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Kartarpur area of the country’s Narowal district, where the founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak, died in 1539, to Dera Baba Nanak in India’s Punjab state.

His presence in Pakistan had drawn criticism from several quarters including Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh. Singh said he had asked Sidhu to reconsider his decision but the minister chose to go ahead with the visit.

Bharatiya Janata Party spokesperson Sambit Patra rebuked Sidhu after the photograph with Chawla surfaced and called him a traitor. “The way Navjot Singh Sidhu is playing with India’s security, Indian history will never forgive him,” News18 quoted the BJP leader as saying.

Shiromani Akali Dal leader Majinder Singh Sirsa said Sidhu had embarrassed Indians with his actions. “Despite the Punjab chief minister’s refusal to visit Pakistan because of cross-border terrorism, Sidhu travelled to Pakistan,” Sirsa told reporters. “His actions will have a long-term impact. Pakistan will take advantage of his presence there.”

In August, Sidhu had landed in a similar controversy after a photo showed him hugging Pakistani Army Chief Qamar Javed Bajwa. Sidhu, a former cricketer, was in Islamabad on August 18 to attend the swearing-in ceremony of Imran Khan as the country’s prime minister. He has since been often criticised for attending the ceremony, hugging Bajwa and being seated next to Masood Khan, the president of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir which Islamabad calls “Azaad Jammu and Kashmir”.