Stung by the charge that he had been rebuked for “messing up” during his recent visit to Pakistan, Punjab minister Navjot Singh Sidhu today presented a different version of his meeting with Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj on Monday.
Navjot Sidhu said he had asked the foreign minister to send a formal request to Pakistan on opening up the Kartarpur Sahib corridor between the neighbours, as a follow-up to his visit to Islamabad for fellow cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan’s oath ceremony last month.
“We had a detailed discussion during the meeting, I explained to her (Sushma Swaraj) about the necessity of opening of the Kartarpur corridor. A formal request should go from India’s side. (The minister) said to me, ‘the draft is being prepared and I will write a letter,” Mr Sidhu said.
He claimed that he had written to the foreign minister once earlier during the parliament session, urging that New Delhi reciprocate after Pakistan’s “gesture”.
After Mr Sidhu’s meeting with Sushma Swaraj yesterday, however, Union Minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal claimed that the Congress leader had been reprimanded for “messing up” the Kartarpur Sahib corridor dialogue and for “misusing” the political clearance to visit Pakistan.
“External Affairs Minister (Swaraj) reprimanded Navjot Sidhu for messing up Kartarpur Sahib corridor dialogue and misusing political clearance granted for private visit by hugging military Chief responsible for killing our soldiers,” Ms Badal told reporters.
Mr Sidhu had faced sharp political attacks after TV channels looped visuals of him embracing Pakistani army chief Qamar Javed Bajwa at the oath ceremony on August 18. He claimed it was a spontaneous gesture after Bajwa told him that Pakistan was working on opening the Kartarpur corrdidor for Sikh pilgrims from Punjab. He had also been targeted by the BJP – and within his Congress party – for attending the event where he was on the front row next to a Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) leader.
Soon after his return to India, Mr Sidhu had declared that Pakistan was ready to open the corridor to Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib, a historic Sikh pilgrimage 120 km from Lahore, on the birth anniversary of Guru Nanak.
But according to news agency ANI, Ms Swaraj wrote this week to Ms Badal that the Pakistani government has “neither agreed to include visits to Kartarpur Sahib by Indian pilgrims under bilateral protocol nor sent any official communication” for establishing the corridor.
Kartarpur is an important Sikh destination as Guru Nanak settled there after his travels and died in 1539.