Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Tuesday said that Punjab Minister Navjot Singh Sidhu hugging Pakistan Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa during his recent visit to the neighbouring country was “demoralising”.
“Navjot Sidhu has a lot of admirers and followers. He has been a very popular cricketer… He has his fan following. Somebody of that stature, going (to Pakistan) and then there hugging the chief of the Army…an Army about which in India we have very clear feelings,” Sitharaman said.
“It certainly has an impact on the soldiers and all the people in the (Defence) Ministry. The public response has also been similar that it demoralises,” she added.
“If it demoralises people, I wish Siddhu had avoided. I am not talking about him going (to Pakistan) but more about that singular gesture of hugging the Army chief,” Sitharaman said.
Cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu had been invited for the swearing-in ceremony of Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, who was also a cricketer.
Sidhu also claimed to have brought up the issue of opening the route to Sikh pilgrimage site Kartarpur Saheb with the Pakistan leadership. However, Sidhu has been facing flak from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) for meddling in a bilateral affair.
Union Minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal said on Tuesday: “Shockingly, Navjot Singh Sidhu gave the impression to everyone that it is he who has got it (Kartarpur Saheb route) opened with the Pakistan government. I wonder why he made an unannounced visit to Sushmaji’s office yesterday (Monday) when he claims he has already got the corridor opened.”
“Rightly, he was reprimanded by the External Affairs Minister for misusing his personal visit clearance and lowering reputation of India as well as causing diplomatic faux pas.
“I ask Rahul Gandhi that a Minister of your party went to an enemy nation, betrayed our people and played with the sentiments of Sikhs. Was this all done with your blessings? Will you take action against him, or are you hand in glove with him?” she added.
BJP Spokesman Sambit Patra, too, slammed Sidhu for running “parallel diplomacy”.
He said that while giving Sidhu clearance to visit Pakistan, Sushma Swaraj had cautioned him to “not be hyper” and guard against saying or doing anything that “may lower India’s reputation”.
Coming to Sidhu’s defence, Congress spokesman Randeep Singh Surjewala said the BJP, which Sidhu left two years back, continues to “nurture animosity” against him.
About Sidhu meeting Sushma Swaraj on Monday, Surjewala said that instead of “planting” stories about reprimanding Sidhu, the External Affairs Minister should officially say as to what transpired in the meeting.
“Instead of berating Sidhu, should not the Prime Minister be ensuring that our Sikh brothers and sisters are permitted to have ‘darshan’ of a place which is important for Sikhs (Kartarpur saheb)?
“Sidhu may have an intent but he does not have the authority to open or not open a corridor. The responsibility finally lies at the doorstep of Prime Minister and the MEA,” Surjewala said.