A major controversy involving Congress leader and Punjab minister Navjot Singh Sidhu erupted on Tuesday after External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj clarified that Pakistan had made no communication whatsoever regarding the Gurudwara Kartarpur Sahib.
In a sharp attack on Sidhu, Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) MP Harsimrat Kaur Badal called him a “Pakistani agent” and “a puppet dancing to their tune”.
“I think he is a new agent that Pakistan has found and they are using him as a puppet and he is dancing to their tune. Let him dance and deliver to our people,” Badal, who is also the Union Minister Minister of Food Processing, said at a press conference.
Badal questioned Sidhu’s “friendship” with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan stating that “out of the entire cricket team only Navjot Sidhu was invited”.
“Let him produce a letter from the PM granting this (corridor to Kartarpur). The moment that letter is produced, within 24 hrs, I’ll have the corridor put up by my GoI,” she was quoted as saying by ANI.
On Monday, Sidhu had a meeting with Swaraj during which the EAM reportedly “reprimanded” the Punjab minister for “misusing” his visit to Pakistan.
“External Affairs Minister (Swaraj) reprimanded 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,” Harsimrat Kaur Badal tweeted on Monday.
In the press conference on Tuesday, Badal also produced the letter that Swaraj wrote to her.
In the letter, Swaraj said that New Delhi has been taking up the matter of opening a passage to the Gurudwara located in Pakistan but Islamabad “has so far neither agreed to include visits to Gurudwara Kartarpur Sahib by the Indian pilgrims…nor has it sent any official communication for establishing a corridor”.
Sidhu had on the occasion of the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak claimed that Pakistan will open the corridor to Kartarpur Sahib. His party, too, had hailed it as a goodwill gesture. But Swaraj’s letter punctured Sidhu’s claim.
“Kartarpur corridor is an emotional issue for Sikhs. We pray each day to be able to have open darshan of the Gurdwara which remains across the fence. Several of us, including me, have been pursuing with the government to have this corridor opened,” Badal wrote while sharing the letter on Twitter.
Kartarpur corridor is an emotional issue for Sikhs. We pray each day to be able to have open darshan of the Gurdwara which remains across the fence. Several of us, including me, have been pursuing with the government to have this corridor opened. pic.twitter.com/zTkVr2Q83Z
— Harsimrat Kaur Badal (@HarsimratBadal_) September 18, 2018
Continuing her attack, Badal said that Sidhu gave the impression to everyone that it is he who has got it opened with the Pakistani government.
“I wonder why he made an unannounced visit to Sushma Ji’s office yesterday when he claims he has already got the corridor opened!” she said.
According to Badal, Swaraj “clearly told” Sidhu that the matter of the Kartarpur corridor was already being pursued by SAD that “he had no business of making false claims”.
Questioning Congress president Rahul Gandhi on the matter, Badal said, “I ask Rahul Gandhi that a minister of your party went to an enemy nation, betrayed our people and played with the sentiments of the Sikhs. Was this all done with your blessings? Will you take action against him or are you hand in glove with him?”
Meanwhile, Sidhu said that he had a detailed discussion with Swaraj on the matter and that the EAM told him that she will write a letter.
“I had written in my letter to EAM that ‘kindly send a formal request from MEA to Government of Pakistan requesting an early agreement and opening of the Kartarpur passage after current monsoon season’,” ANI quoted Sidhu as saying.
“We had a detailed discussion during the meeting, explained to her (EAM) about the necessity of opening of the Kartarpur corridor. A formal request should go from India’s side. EAM said to me, ‘the draft is being prepared and I will write a letter’,” he added.
Sidhu has been at the centre of controversy ever since he hugged Pakistani Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa at the swearing-in ceremony of Imran Khan, to which he was invited.
Besides the BJP and the SAD, Sidhu’s action was also censured by Congress leader and Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh.
“To say that ‘I don’t know General Bajwa’…it is written on his uniform. That’s wrong for him (Sidhu) to have shown the affections he did for the Pakistan Army Chief,” said the Punjab CM said on 19 August.
Upon his return from Pakistan, Sidhu defended his hug by comparing it to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s gesture of inviting SAARC leaders and former Prime Minister late Atal Bihari Vajpayee Lahore visit.
“When Narendra Modi became Prime Minister of India, he invited heads of SAARC nations including former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif for the swearing-in ceremony. Sharif was accorded a warm welcome. Not only this, Modi, with hope in mind, had suddenly gone to Lahore to attend a family function of former PM Sharif and greet him without even any official formalities. No one is questioning PM Modi,” he said on 22 August.
Asserting that his visit was not about politics but a warm invite from an “old friend” (Imran Khan), the Punjab minister pointed out that former PM late Atal Bihari Vajpayee had also travelled on the bus to Lahore.
The Kartarpur route, which lies along the India-Pakistan border, is just three kilometres from Gurdaspur, Punjab.
Sikh pilgrims will get a direct access to the historic Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Kartarpur if the route is opened. The Gurudwara is significant for it was where Guru Nanak died in 1539.