The BJP has a knack for creating a controversy where there is none. The latest example is Navjot Singh Sidhu's visit to Pakistan and his praise of its Prime Minister Imran Khan. The same happened during Imran Khan's swearing-in ceremony when Sidhu hugged Pakistani army chief Qamar Javed Bajwa. The BJP objected strongly to the hug stating that the army chief supported and sponsored terrorism in India which led to the killing of Indian soldiers and civilians. The right-wing TV channels went to the extent of calling Sidhu anti-national and a Pakistan supporter. In a free country, the press is free to take an editorial call and set the narrative that they want but a party which is in government and has the responsibility of furthering the interest of the country must be more restrained. In matters of foreign policy, it has always been advisable to speak less and be very guarded. But such lessons have been thrown in the dustbins and speaking more is considered to be a virtue in diplomacy these days.
Sidhu travelled to Pakistan for the ground-breaking ceremony of the Kartarpur Sahib Corridor. Undaunted by the controversy over his visit, he thanked Imran Khan and said the corridor would open infinite opportunities and promote peace between the two countries. Before becoming a politician and minister, he was a cricketer and had played against Imran Khan, rated as one of the world's best fast bowlers. Sidhu has openly said that as a child, he was a great fan of Imran Khan and later, when he started playing for India, he became friends with Imran Khan. It is therefore no wonder that when Imran was taking oath as Prime Minister, he invited Sidhu as his personal guest.
It is true that Imran the cricketer and Imran the politician are two different persons. As a cricketer, he was admired in India. But as a Prime Minister allegedly sponsored by the Pakistan army and other Jihadi elements in Pakistan, he can't be accorded the same status. Now he is the leader of an enemy country openly sponsoring terrorism in India, promoting secessionist movements in Kashmir and trying to foment trouble in a big way in Punjab. Pakistan's imprint is quite visible in the recent terror attack in Amritsar. There is no doubt that Imran Khan and his army chief should be condemned for these deeds. But the issue is, why target Sidhu? In international diplomacy, basic courtesies are exchanged even when enemies meet. Therefore, I don't see the reason for the angst if Sidhu hugs Bajwa or the other way around. Did Sidhu's actions compromise national interest? No. The opening of the Kartarpur Sahib Corridor is a good beginning and some credit should be given to him.
And if Sidhu is to be condemned, then how will Prime Minister Modi's paratrooping in Lahore in December 2015 unannounced, hugging then Pak Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, wishing him a happy birthday and giving him a gift, be classified? Can we call it an anti-national act? No. Should Atal Bihari Vajpayee be condemned for hosting Pakistan Dictator Pervez Musharraf in Agra in 2001 for the summit? Let's not forget that Musharraf as an army chief was the architect of the Kargil war which was a major attempt by Pakistan to carve out a part of India and rewrite geography. This war was the most audacious attack on India since the war of 1965. And it is also to be remembered that within six months of the Agra Summit, the Indian parliament was attacked by Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorists sponsored by Pakistan. Even after this, the BJP-led NDA government still engaged with Pakistan in diplomatic talks.
If Sidhu is to be pilloried, then why should the Modi government not be accused of bartering India's interest just after the attack on the Pathankot air force base in 2016? The Modi Government allowed Pakistan's dreaded intelligence agency, the ISI, to visit the base, when the same agency had engineered the attack. The ISI agents upon return to Pakistan blamed India for the blast. It created an embarrassing situation for India at the international level. But nobody called the Modi government anti-national. Let us not forget that the same BJP blamed former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for hatching a conspiracy in Delhi along with Pakistan leaders to make Ahmed Patel the Chief Minister during the Gujarat assembly election late last year. And the government had to record its regret in parliament later.
There is no denying the fact that the opening of the Kartarpur Sahib Corridor is a good beginning. And both the governments should be complimented irrespective of their adversarial relationship. But it is also a fact that this opening needs a 360-degree analysis and its pros and cons should be discussed threadbare. We need to discuss how it is a great relief for Sikh pilgrims and at the same time we should also talk about why Pakistan has suddenly been so proactive and cooperative on this issue. It has to be debated as to if there is any sinister design behind this seemingly large-heartedness. We have to figure out if it is a mere coincidence that pro-Khalistani elements are suddenly very active across the border and look closely at reports that say that Khalistani leaders residing in Canada, USA and Germany are meeting regularly, and along with them, the ISI seems to be planning something big to disturb peace in Punjab. How can India ignore that pro-Khalistan posters were displayed recently at the Nankana Sahib Gurdwara in Pakistan? Pakistan's logic that that its government cannot do anything as it does not interfere in the internal matter of the Sikh Community can't be taken at face value. Can India ignore the fact that Pakistan has given visas to hundreds of Khalistanis who are trooping into Pakistan from other countries? It is rather sad that the BJP, which prides itself on nationalism, does not seem to be interested in these matters which should really attract the attention of a nationalist party.
(Ashutosh is a Delhi-based author and journalist.)
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