Congress leader Navjot Singh Sidhu on Tuesday point-blank refused to apologise for hugging Pakistan's Army chief during his visit to India's terror-friendly neighbour, and, in a brazen defence, even expressed how his affection for General Qamar Javed Bajwa had increased during the visit.
Addressing a news briefing over the raging controversy triggered by his high-profile presence at the swearing in of Imran Khan as Pakistan's Prime Minister, during which he, aside from hugging Bajwa, also sat next to the President of Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir (PoK), the former cricketer chose to begin by reading from a prepared script -- a departure from his usual shoot-from-the-hip style, which he would, nonetheless, drop later.
Sidhu sought to preface his address by saying that he had not gone in any political capacity, rather that his was a friendly visit. He praised Imran Khan heavily, citing him as someone who had struggled a lot to become the Prime Minister and backed Khan to create a new beginning in the relations between India and Pakistan. Sidhu expressed his delight at being personally invited by Imran Khan and put forth his own belief that issues between India and Pakistan should be resolved with talks. To emphasise his point, Sidhu raised how former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee had visited Lahore in 1998 after which Pakistan betrayed India with the Kargil War. Yet, Vajpayee invited then Pak PM Nawaz Sharif to Agra, Sidhu emphasised. He also raised PM Modi inviting Nawaz Sharif for his oath-taking ceremony and subsequent visit to Pakistan on Sharif's birthday, citing that Jawans were being martyred then as well.
He then sought to address hugging Pak's Army chief Qamar Javed Bajwa. Using the honorific 'Sahab' for the Pak Army chief, Sidhu narrated how before their embrace, Bajwa and he shared an exchange about Indians being allowed to visit the Kartarpur Saheb in Pakistan, as a result of which his affection (sneh) for the Pak Army chief had increased.
"I want to make it clear that I met Bajwa sahab in Islamabad when he entered the oath-taking ceremony of Imran, and he saw me with great pride. Moments after meeting me, he said 'on Guru Nanak's 550th birthday, we are planning to allow Indians to visit Kartarpur Sahab, and it is very possible'. Many pray to visit this place on this auspicious occasion. This statement from Major Bajwa made me emotional, and I started to like him for this."
Sidhu clarified that he was reading his statement out loud so that it would not be misconstrued.
He also blamed protocol for being seated next to the PoK president, adding that he was unaware of whom he was being seated beside.
Shortly after that, Sidhu began to conduct his briefing unaided and said once again that he felt blessed to receive such love in Pakistan. He spoke about how Imran Khan had commended him for attending the ceremony saying 'Shabaash Bahadur'.
As mediapersons asked him further questions about his visit, namely why he went there, Sidhu went on the offensive, equating his acts with official ones, such as the exchange of sweets by the forces on Eid, and the Indian High Commission gifting Imran Khan a bat, and said that they should also be stopped as per the standards being applied to him. Sidhu continued to cite Vajpayee's efforts, asking, 'Can there be a better shraddhanjali to Vajpayee ji who went to Pakistan with the message of peace?'
Oddly, at this point, returning to the matter of hugging the Pak Army Chief, Sidhu made a statement of helplessness, saying, 'Had I not hugged him, what else would I have done, you tell me?'
He also offhandedly added an alleged snippet of their conversation that he had failed to before, saying 'General walks up to me and says he wants peace in the region', and adding, 'there are a lot of positive people in Pakistan also'.
Sidhu dismissed the criticism directed at him by Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh, but put forth that he had the support of the Congress party, and that he was not answerable to the BJP.
"My leaders are with me", Sidhu said, before making it seem like not speaking to Pakistan, which unleashes violence on India and Indians either directly or indirectly every day, was a matter of India being small-hearted. India has been clear to Pakistan that there will be no talks while terrorism continues
"Itna bada Hindustan aur itne chote chote dil?"
He went on to brush aside Jawans being martyred at the border as a result of Pakistan's acts, and spoke about how talks would end violence.
'Lal samundar me tairna chhodo', Sidhu said, making a reference to the Blue Ocean Strategy/Red Ocean Strategy management theory, before saying that he doesn't need to disclose his deliberations with Rahul Gandhi to the media and concluding his address in a brazen huff by reading out a couplet.