Punjab Cabinet minister Navjot Singh Sidhu, who has been severely criticised for his comments on the Pulwama terror attack, on Monday reminded the Bharatiya Janata Party that it had released Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Masood Azhar 20 years ago.

The Indian government, headed by Atal Bihari Vajpayee, had to release Azhar and two other militants to secure the lives of 161 passengers held hostage on an Indian Airlines flight in December 1999.

Reiterating that terrorism should not be tolerated, Sidhu said: “I want to ask who released those involved in the 1999 Kandahar incident? Whose responsibility is it? Our fight is against them. Why should a soldier die? Why can’t there be a permanent solution?”

His comments came outside the Punjab Assembly, where the Budget speech was disrupted as Sidhu and Shiromani Akali Dal MLA Bikram Majithia engaged in a verbal battle, The Tribune reported. The Opposition party demanded that Sidhu resign for his remarks about the Pulwama attack last week.

Before the session began, legislators of the Shiromani Akali Dal shouted slogans against Sidhu and burnt pictures of him hugging the Pakistan Army chief during a visit to Islamabad last year. They wore black badges inside the Assembly and continued to shout slogans during the Question Hour.

Finance minister Manpreet Badal was forced to cut short his speech as the Akali Dal MLAs trooped into the Well of the House, reported The Indian Express. The House was adjourned briefly around 12.30 pm and the Speaker ordered Opposition MLAs to be escorted out. Congress leaders gathered around Sidhu and even had to physically restrain him from going after Majithia.

“Before everything else, we want to know the clear stand of the Congress and the Punjab government,” Majithia said outside the House, according to News18. “Do they condemn Pakistan Army chief and Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan? After passing a unanimous resolution in the House for condemning the Pulwama terror attack, Sidhu was still saying ‘You cannot blame Pakistan, you cannot blame individual’.”

Meanwhile, the Assembly resolved on Monday to donate one month’s salary of each MLA to the families of the security personnel who were killed in the terror attack in Pulwama on Thursday, PTI reported.

On Friday, Sidhu had called the killing of 40 Central Reserve Police Force personnel in Pulwama a “cowardly act” but had asked if an entire nation could be blamed for the actions of a handful of people. This was viewed as a defence of Pakistan and led to severe backlash. Pakistan-based militant outfit Jaish-e-Mohammad has claimed responsibility for the attack.

Sidhu later claimed that his comments had been distorted. “I was only saying that we need to find a permanent solution to the problem of terrorism,” he told reporters. “Why should soldiers be made to suffer each time? Such attacks have been happening for the last 70 years.”