CHANDIGARH, Aug 21:
Punjab minister Navjot Singh Sidhu today defended hugging the Pakistan Army chief during his recent Islamabad visit, saying he got caught in the moment after hearing that Sikh pilgrims may get access to a shrine across the border.
Back from the swearing-in ceremony of Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, the former cricketer compared his “emotional” reaction with Prime Minister Narendra Modi visit to Lahore in 2015, when he hugged the then Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
Sidhu said his trip was not a “political” visit but in response to a “warm invitation from a friend”.
Sidhu said it was an emotional moment for him when General Qamar Javed Bajwa told him that Pakistan was making efforts to open a corridor for pilgrims from Dera Baba Nanak in Gurdaspur district to Kartarpur Sahib.
Sidhu was slammed by the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party and the Akali Dal, and criticised even by Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh for hugging Bajwa at Imran Khan’s swearing-in on August 18.
After his Chandigarh press conference today, the BJP has again criticised Sidhu.
Sidhu said Bajwa had met him with “enthusiasm” when he spotted him sitting in the front row at the Islamabad ceremony.
“Immediately, he told me that they were making efforts to open the corridor from India’s Dera Baba Nanak to Kartarpur Sahib,” he said.
This, Sidhu said, was being done to mark the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev. The two shrines are about three kilometres apart. “This thing said by Gen Bajwa was an emotional moment for me and the result (the hug) was for everyone to see. After that brief meeting at the gathering, I had no meeting with Gen Bajwa,” the Congress leader said.
Sidhu said he wanted to clarify that his Islamabad visit was just in response to a warm invitation from a friend.
“That friend who went through immense hard work and struggle in life. The one who reached a position which is respected and holds the capability of changing the fate of crores of people,” he said in his opening statement at the press conference. The Minister said crores of pilgrims have been waiting to pay obeisance at Kartarpur Sahib, the place where Guru Nanak Dev spent 18 years.
Sidhu said he is hurt over the criticism following his unplanned meeting with the general and his “emotional reaction” to it.
Chief Minister Amarinder Singh recently said, “I think that was wrong for him to have shown the affection he did for the Pakistani Army chief.”
Navjot Sidhu hoped India and Pakistan can settle their differences through talks and increase trade and other exchanges.
Sidhu called Imran Khan a friend who could help bring relief from “long-standing tension between the two nations”. (PTI)
CHANDIGARH, Aug 21: