Cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu, who had created a splash at the Kartarpur corridor groundbreaking ceremony in Pakistan, said on Friday that his visit was opposed by Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh but not the Congress party. He also hit back at critics of his earlier visit where he had first raised the issue of a special corridor for Sikh pilgrims.
The Punjab minister, whose spirited praise of Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan on the occasion and photo with a Khalistani leader had earned him much criticism back home, said that though Amarinder Singh had asked him not to go, other Congress leaders backed his decision to participate. Amarinder Singh had himself turned down an invite to the event on the grounds of continuing Pakistani involvement in terror attacks in the state.
“Mere captain Rahul Gandhi hain, unhone toh bheja hai har jagah (Rahul Gandhi is my captain, he sends me to various places) ,” Sidhu, who is campaigning for the Congress in Telangana where assembly elections will be held on December 7, said at a press conference.
Earlier, he told ANI that ”at least 20 Congress leaders asked me to go, Central leadership asked me to go. Punjab CM is like my father, I told him that I had already promised them (Pakistan) that I will go.”
On his visit to Pakistan in August for Imran Khan’s oath-taking ceremony, where he got embroiled in controversy after hugging Pakistan army chief, Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa, and announcing that Pakistan was ready to give access to the historic gurudwara associated by Sikhism founder, Guru Nanak, Sidhu recalled his detractors had mocked him.
“When I first went to Pakistan and talked about them promising the Kartarpur corridor, the critics mocked and made fun of me, now the same people are licking their own spit and taking U-turns,” he said.
Sidhu had been in the limelight at the groundbreaking ceremony in Pakistan on Wednesday and even Imran Khan called him the “man of the match”. However, the Pakistani leader’s statement that he had failed to understand why Sidhu had been criticised for his previous visit to Pakistan and assuring that he would easily win an election there had been seized by Sidhu’s rivals to attack him.
Union minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal, who has been vying for credit for the Kartarpur corridor and was one of the two Indian ministers attending the event, mocked Sidhu for being more popular in Pakistan.
“He (Imran Khan) offered him (Navjot Singh Sidhu) to fight elections from Pakistan. He (Sidhu) seems to have more love and respect in Pakistan than what I noticed over here. He has some good relationships over there,” Harsimrat, the wife of Akali Dal chief Sukhbir Singh Badal, had told ANI.
Sidhu had sparked off another row after Gopal Singh Chawla, a pro-Khalistani leader based in Pakistan, shared a photo of them together. He however brushed it off.
“There were probably 5,000-10,000 pictures taken of and with me there (in Pakistan), I don’t know who is Gopal Chawla,” Sidhu said to queries about the controversial photograph.