New Delhi, Aug 21: Facing criticism from both his party and the opposition for embracing Pakistan Army chief Qamar Javed Bajwa during his recent visit to Islamabad, cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu on Tuesday invoked former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s ‘dosti bus’ trip to Lahore to defend his action, saying that efforts for peace have been made in the past also.
“In the past also, efforts for peace have been made, the late Vajpayee ji had taken ‘dosti bus’ to Lahore, invited Musharraf. PM Modi invited Nawaz Sharif to oath-taking, he also went suddenly to Lahore,” he said while addressing a press conference today.
The BJP hit back at Sidhu for his remarks saying that they want an answer from Rahul Gandhi and not Sidhu, further wondering if the Congress president was trying to run a parallel government.
“It’s sad that Navjot Sidhu has somewhat tried to implicate India in all this by saying Indians have small hearts. We condemn this. We want an answer on this not from Sidhu ji but from Rahul ji. Is Rahul ji trying to run a parallel government?” said BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra.
“So for Congress, our Army Chief is ‘sadak ke gunde’ and Pakistan Army Chief is ‘sone de munde’?” he added.
Responding to Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh’s criticism over his visit to Pakistan and embracing Bajwa, Sidhu said that it’s a democracy and everyone has the right to their opinion.
He further claimed that he got invitation from newly-elected Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan at least ten times to attend his oath-taking ceremony in Islamabad, and had sought permission from the Indian government, but was denied the same.
He added that External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj herself called him over phone and informed him about being given permission to visit Pakistan, two days after the neighbouring country granted him visa.
“I received invitation 10 times. Then I sought permission from Indian government, I didn’t get permission & was waiting. 2 days after Pakistan government gave visa, Sushma Swaraj Ji herself called me in the night & informed that I have been given permission,” he said.
Clarifying on the controversy over embracing the Pakistan Army chief, Sidhu said that the former told him that “they were making efforts to to open corridor to Kartarpur Sahib”, which was followed by an “emotional moment”.
He said his seat was changed at the last minute and he did not know who sat next to him, and also claimed that he did not meet Bajwa later.
“It was just a moment with General Bajwa as he came to me when I was sitting in the front row. I never interacted with him after that,” he said.
Sidhu said he was overwhelmed with the love and affection he received in Pakistan, but at the same time was disappointed by some of the reactions.
On Monday, a case of sedition was was filed against Sidhu in a Bihar court for hugging the Pakistan Army chief during his visit to Pakistan. Lawyer Sudhur Ojha filed the case in Muzaffarpur’s Chief Judicial Magistrate (CJM) court.
Ojha said he has filed the case under Indian Penal Case sections involving sedition. In his complaint, he said Sidhu’s gesture hurt the people of the country.
Sidhu had yesterday 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 here.
On his return from Pakistan on Sunday, Sidhu had defended his action, asking what was he supposed to do when someone tells him that “we belong to the same culture” and talks of opening the route to the historic Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib.