Navjot Singh Sidhu says Islamabad visit was 'govt-approved', 'not political'; BJP calls Congress 'pro-Pakistan'

Clearing the air over the issue of cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu's embracing Pakistan army chief Qamar Javed Bajwa at a press conference, the Punjab minister said he went to Pakistan with government approval and said he did not go there for any political gain. He also reiterated what he had said, soon after his return from Pakistan on Sunday, asking what he was supposed to do when someone (Bajwa) tells him that "we belong to the same culture" and talks of opening the route to the historic Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib.

Saying that peace talks are very important, he clarified that Bajwa and he met barely for a minute before the oath-taking ceremony had begun. The Punjab minister said that he cannot show his back if someone offers their hand of friendship. He even said that this is a big country but people are being narrow-minded, if ministers are allowed to visit such countries without invitation, he went with the invitation.

File image of Navjot Singh Sidhu. PTI

File image of Navjot Singh Sidhu. PTI

Sidhu said it is a matter of pride for him that he got an invitation from Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan and mourned the current situation between the two neighbouring countries.

He also said that foreign minister Sushma Swaraj had called him up to say that he got all the clearances to visit Pakistan.  "I received an invitation 10 times. Then I sought permission from the Indian government, I didn't get the permission initially and was waiting. Two days later, the Pakistan government gave me a visa," Sidhu said.

Saying that people of both the countries look forward to peace, Sidhu said,"I found love in Pakistan when I had personal interactions with people and I do not regret it."

Talking about the Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh's statement against his embrace, Sidhu said that many people from Congress have spoken on this including Captain Sahab. "It's a democracy and everyone has the right to their opinion," Sidhu said.

The former cricketer also said that he believes the day talks begin, conflicts will end."Pakistan is not a no-man's land, thousands go there. Even Atal Behari Vajpayee who was a nationalist had gone there to convey the message of peace. Late Vajpayeeji had taken the 'dosti bus' to Lahore, invited Pervez Musharraf. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had invited Nawaz Sharif for his oath-taking, he also went suddenly to Lahore. Any step towards peace is a big step," Sidhu said. Acknowledging that it was a private visit, he said that there is no rule that only the government can initiate talks.

When a journalist noted that he was reading from a paper for the first time, Sidhu quipped that he wanted to make sure that none of his words could be distorted.

On Monday, Sidhu had said that he was prepared to give a strong reply to all when needed. "Whenever the reply has to be given, I will give and I will give it to all... It will be a strong reply," Sidhu, the only Indian to attend Imran Khan's swearing-in ceremony as Pakistan's prime minister, said. His comments come after Amarinder had ticked off his cabinet colleague for hugging Bajwa. "I think it was wrong for him (Sidhu) to have shown the affection he did for the Pakistan Army chief, I am not in its favour... The fact is that the man (Sidhu) should understand that our soldiers are being killed everyday. My own regiment lost one major and two jawans a few months ago," Amarinder had said.

Slamming Sidhu's statements, BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra said that everyone wants peace and prosperity but at whose behest does the Punjab minister address a press conference on the issue against the statement of his chief minister. "Rahul cannot run a parallel government in the country," Patra said saying before giving permission to Sidhu, diplomacy should not have been outsourced. "The sense of equivalence Sidhu drew between the prime minister and Vajpayee is very surprising. How can a state minister think he is almost equal to a prime minister and one of the most prominent leaders of the country?"

Recalling the time when Congress president Rahul Gandhi had secretly met Chinese envoy during the Doka La issue, he said, "Rahulji, you are out of power and you have to learn this graciously. Not as a BJP spokesperson, but as a normal Indian, I want to know what is happening in your party?"

He also asked Rahul how is a Congress leader even"glorifying a Pakistan general who is responsible for butchering a number of Indians"." How did Rahul or other Congressmen even forget all those martyrs' and their families in Jammu and Kashmir. You belong to a beautiful country which made you an MP, gave you enough love and yet you say that Pakistan gave you the universe?" Patra asked.

Saying that Congress and Rahul are busy fuelling Pakistan's conspiracies, Patra said every Indian wants to know how can they have a pro-Pakistan stand when there are so many who have lost their family members because of that country. "It's sad that Navjot Sidhu has somewhat tried to implicate India in all this by saying Indians have small hearts. We condemn this," Patra said.

With inputs from PTI

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Updated Date: Aug 21, 2018 14:35:44 IST

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