Punjab Congress president Navjot Singh Sidhu was at the centre of a new row Saturday after he called Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan his “bada bhai” (elder brother) who had showered him “a lot of love”.
Sidhu made this remark Saturday morning while being greeted by a Pakistani official at the Kartarpur Corridor border crossing. He visited the Gurdwara at Kartarpur Sahib, accompanied by Punjab Sports minister Pargat Singh, Revenue Minister Aruna Chaudhary, several Congress MLAs and an MP.
When Mohammad Latif, Chief Executive Officer of the Project Management Unit of Gurdwara Darbar Sahib, Kartarpur, said he was welcoming Sidhu on behalf of Prime Minister Imran Khan and the Pakistani nation, Sidhu said: “I am honoured. Mera bada bhai hai, Usne bada pyar diya hai (He is my elder brother. He has given a lot of love).”
The BJP slammed Sidhu for his remark on Imran Khan. BJP national general secretary Tarun Chugh said “Sidhu is Congress’s agent for Pakistan”.
In a statement, Chugh said it is most unfortunate for Punjab and the country that Sidhu, while in Pakistan, has no words of praise for his motherland, and is instead singing praise of the Pakistan Prime Minister who has been “sending drones and tiffin bombs” to Punjab.
“Sidhu is more in love with Pakistan than India and is behaving like a Pakistan agent in Punjab here. AICC president Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi should explain their party’s stand on Pakistan,” Chugh said.
He said it is “grossly condemnable and reprehensible” that on the one hand, Pakistan has been “killing our jawans” on the border, and on the other hand, Congress leaders have been singing praise of the Pakistan Prime Minister.
(In New Delhi, BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra also targeted the Congress, alleging that it sees terror groups like ISIS and Boko Haram in Hindutva while it finds a “bhai jaan” in Khan.)
Sidhu and the Congress delegation were showered with rose petals, garlanded and escorted to the Pakistan immigration check post where Sidhu was flooded with requests for photographs and selfies by Pakistan Rangers personnel and immigration staff. He obliged each and every one before proceeding to the Gurdwara a few kilometres down the road.
In August 2018, Sidhu was criticised by Captain Amarinder Singh, then Chief Minister of Punjab, and the BJP leadership for hugging Pakistan Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa in Islamabad. Sidhu was a special guest of Imran Khan at the ceremony for his swearing-in as Prime Minister. Their friendship dates back to their cricketing days.
Before he crossed over to Pakistan Saturday, Sidhu, responding to a query from The Sunday Express about aspersions cast on his role in the development of the Kartarpur Sahib corridor, said these remarks do not bother him.
“They make me stronger. If the Guru has chosen me to help in some small way so that millions of Guru Nanak’s followers can reach his abode in Kartarpur, then what can be a bigger honour,” he said.
At the Gurdwara in Kartarpur Sahib, Sidhu was mobbed by Pakistanis, including Hindus visiting in large numbers from Sukkur in Sindh. Speaking to them, Sidhu thanked Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan for having taken the initiative to establish the Kartarpur Corridor.
“But why should not the two Punjabs have closer ties? We have the same language, culture and mannerisms, so why should we have to indulge in trade in a roundabout manner? There is 37 billion dollar worth of trade which can be done by the two countries along with Central Asian republics. I want this to happen for the prosperity of the two countries and for three crore Punjabis,” he said.
Sidhu was invited to say a few words along with CEO Mohammad Latif, but he declined saying he did not want to make any political speech while on a pilgrimage. Speaking in Punjabi, the Pakistani official also said that re-opening of the corridor was a credit to the governments of the two countries. “Tuhadey layi saaddey dar vee khulle ne, ghar vee khulle ne te dil vee khulle me (For you, our doors are open, homes are open and hearts are open too),” he said.
Sidhu spent half an hour meditating in the Gurdwara. As he headed for the langar, he was again mobbed by young Pakistanis who chanted his punchline, ‘Thoko Taali’, from a TV comedy show.
On his return to India, Sidhu dismissed the uproar over his remarks on Imran Khan, saying some people were concentrating on petty issues while there were bigger things to consider.