Former Indian cricketer and present Punjab Cabinet Minister Navjot Singh Sidhu has been making the news for all the wrong reasons of late. Sidhu, the only Indian politician to accept the invite from Imran Khan for his swearing-in ceremony, created a major controversy by hugging the Pakistan Army Chief General Bajwa at the event in Islamabad.
Politicians across party lines here in India, including Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, were critical of Sidhu hurting the sentiments of Indians at a time when Pakistan Army was responsible for unleashing the bloodbath in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir through a proxy war.
Sidhu justified the action by raising the issue of Kartarpur Sahib Corridor, saying that the Army Chief in Pakistan gave him assurance that the corridor would be made accessible for Indian Sikh pilgrims next year on the 550th birth centenary celebrations. Yet, Sidhu was greeted with black flags on his arrival from Islamabad at Attari border by the Sikh community.
While Congress distanced itself from the entire controversy of Sidhu, the Indian Government representatives in Islamabad maintained that 'India hopes Pakistan will react positively to the proposal India and particularly the Sikh community has been making since 1999.'
Even as the controversy was yet to settle, in an impromptu press conference Navjot Singh Sidhu a few days later announced that Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan had finally decided to open the Kartarpur Sahib corridor. In a unilateral move, Sidhu thanked the Pakistan Government for having a large heart and almost ordered the Indian Government to reciprocate positively. Within minutes of the press conference being televised live across networks, Government sources both in India and Pakistan denied any official communication in this regard, maintaining that efforts continue.
That wasn’t the end of it all. Sidhu shot a letter to External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj on September 8, asking her to respond in a positive manner to Pakistan respecting to sentiments of the Sikh Community. ‘When opportunity knocks, kindly step up and open the door’, wrote Sidhu who is more popular for his one-liners during his Comedy show appearances on TV. Sidhu did not realise that it was Pakistan which has to open the door and not India.
Intelligence Sources confirmed to Republic TV that ‘Navjot Singh Sidhu was being used as a pawn by the ISI. Pakistan since last 30 years wanted this corridor to be opened but India was against it for security concerns, since the opening of the Kartarpur Sahib Corridor with Pakistan would also automatically open channels of communication between the Khalistani terrorists.’
‘It will also increase espionage activities from Pakistan’s side and this will open up the narco-terror route and arms smuggling in the area. The media announcement by Pakistan is a mischievous attempt from Pakistan’s side without any diplomatic consensus between two nations’, maintained the sources within the security apparatus.
Even in the past Indian intelligence agencies have been against such an opening up of the corridor. It will only help Pro-Khalistan elements to re-establish their links with their counterparts on the other side. The infiltration routes have been plugged by the Indian side in J&K and North East, but now a desperate Pakistan will try to cultivate anti-India assets from India through the opening up of Kartarpur Sahib Corridor if any such move is made.
As the Intelligence community remained wary, India’s envoy to Pakistan Ajay Bisaria visited the Kartarpur Sahib Gurudwara followed by a visit to the Nankana Sahib as well with immense hope. While New Delhi was fully aware of Imran Khan’s closeness to Rawalpindi which may twist the narrative the ISI way, India continued to watch cautiously.
(India’s envoy to Pakistan Ajay Bisaria at the Kartarpur Gurudwara)
Union Minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal, who was the most vocal to hit out at Sidhu for the ‘unfortunate hug’ and ‘politicising the Kartarpur corridor issue’, now wrote a letter to Sushma Swaraj on September 13 requesting her to make clear the diplomatic dialogue with Pakistan on Kartarpur corridor.
Republic TV has now accessed the letter written by External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj on September 15 in response to Harsimrat Kaur Badal stating very clearly, ‘Pakistan so far has neither agreed to include visits to Gurudwara Kartarpur Sahib by the Indian pilgrims under bilateral protocol on visits to religious shrines of 1974 nor has it sent any official communication for establishing a corridor.'
Indian Government, for the first time ever since the controversy broke, made its stand clear, officially declaring that there had been no move from Pakistan to open the historic Sikh pilgrimage site in Pakistan for Indian pilgrims.
Sidhu, who triggered this entire controversy perhaps as a PR stunt, continues to defend his statements without any apology of clarification. Sixer Sidhu, as he was called during his cricketing journey, however, was stumped for a golden duck by External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj in New Delhi on September 17.
Navjot Singh Sidhu presented himself along with former Sports Minister MS Gill at the Safdarjung residence of Sushma Swaraj on September 17 afternoon. While the meeting lasted only few minutes, top Government Sources revealed that Swaraj reprimanded Sidhu for the hug with the Pakistan Army Chief at a time when Indian soldiers and Kashmiris were being killed by Pakistani terrorists, and for deliberately politicising the Kartarpur corridor issue without consulting the Indian Government. Sidhu was left speechless at the end of the meeting after being reprimanded by a senior Union Minister.
Meanwhile, sources reveal that India and Pakistan may reach a consensus diplomatically by next year on Kartarpur corridor but India won’t in any manner compromise national security. If such a consensus is reached, the credit wholly would go to India’s envoy to Pakistan Ajay Bisaria and his deputy JP Singh. Pakistan is using this as a clever opportunity and a ploy to force India on the table for comprehensive bilateral dialogue amidst global isolation of Pakistan for state-sponsored terrorism. India has however always maintained that terror and talks can’t happen at the same time.
Navjot Singh Sidhu has led the Congress to a major embarrassment on the Kartarpur corridor issue, angering even the Sikh community. But, will Sidhu apologise for jumping the gun on the Kartarpur corridor after this Comedy of Errors?
The Sikh community awaits the opportunity for the pious pilgrimage to Kartarpur Sahib Gurudwara without being used for political points scoring by a former cricketer.