Navjot Singh Sidhu has landed the Congress in a pickle – again.
The MLA from Punjab’s Amritsar (East) constituency triggered a row today after reportedly referring to Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan as his “bada bhai“, or elder brother.
Mr Sidhu – both the Congress’ state chief and an unrelenting critic of his own party ahead of next year’s election – was visiting the Darbar Sahib Gurudwara in Pakistan (via the Kartarpur corridor), before which he and members of his entourage were received and garlanded by a Pak official.
A video of that interaction was tweeted by the BJP’s Amit Malviya.
In the short clip the Pak official greets Mr Sidhu on behalf of Prime Minister Khan, to which the former India cricketer seems to respond: “Thank you… he (Imran Khan) is like my bhai… my bada bhai.”
Mr Malviya and the BJP have lost no time tearing into the Congress, the Gandhis and “a Pakistan-loving Sidhu”, including reminding voters about his controversial embrace of Pak Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa in 2018, for which he was ticked off by ex-Chief Minister Amarinder Singh.
“Rahul Gandhi’s favourite, Navjot Sidhu, calls Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan his ‘bada bhai’. Last time he hugged General Bajwa, Pakistan Army’s Chief, heaped praises. Is it any surprise the Gandhi siblings chose a Pakistan-loving Sidhu over veteran Amarinder Singh?” Mr Malviya tweeted.
Rahul Gandhi’s favourite Navjot Singh Sidhu calls Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan his “bada bhai”. Last time he had hugged Gen Bajwa, Pakistan Army’s Chief, heaped praises.
Is it any surprise that the Gandhi siblings chose a Pakistan loving Sidhu over veteran Amarinder Singh? pic.twitter.com/zTLHEZT3bC
— Amit Malviya (@amitmalviya) November 20, 2021
That last line has raised some eyebrows, given Mr Singh has formed his own political outfit and has confirmed he is open to seat-sharing deals with the BJP and breakaway Akali Dal factions.
The BJP’s Sambit Patra accused the Congress of ‘appeasement politics’, referring to Salman Khurshid’s book and the comparison of “Hindutva” and Islamist terror groups like ISIS.
“Other leaders of Congress also gave statements against ”Hindutva”. Rahul Gandhi said ”Hindutva ko Bharat se khatra hai‘,”he declared, calling it a “designed pattern… to give pro-Pak statements”.
It wasn’t just the BJP that slammed the Congress; Akali Dal leader Daljit Singh Cheema accused Mr Sidhu of wanting “publicity”. “He has no inkling of responsibilities… says such things deliberately.”
AAP leader Raghav Chadha also chimed in, saying it is “deeply worrying that Punjab’s ruling party and Chief Minister) are professing their love for Pak PM and Pakistan”.
Deeply worrying that Punjab’s ruling party chief & Chief Minister are professing their love for Pak PM & Pakistan- a country that exports terror,executes terror modules, sends tiffin bombs & drones arms/drugs into Punjab. Do Sidhu and Channi not value the martyrdom of our jawans? pic.twitter.com/jd2F7XnHHY
— Raghav Chadha (@raghav_chadha) November 20, 2021
The attacks on the Congress come months before Punjab votes for a new government..
Mr Sidhu’s remark was criticised by his party too. “Imran Khan may be anybody’s elder brother but, for India, he is the cat’s paw of the Pak deep state – the ISI-military combine,” MP Manish Tewari said.
However, in a sign of the continuing discord within the party’s ranks ahead of the election, minister Pargat Singh seemed to defend Mr Sidhu.
“When PM Modi goes (to Pak) he is ‘desh premi‘. When Sidhu goes, he is ‘desh drohi‘. Can’t I call you a brother? We follow Guru Nanak Dev’s philosophy,” Mr Singh told news agency ANI.
As for Mr Sidhu, he appeared unconcerned by the row his remarks have caused. To a direct question about the BJP’s accusations, he said: “Let the BJP say whatever they want.”
On the re-opening of the corridor, he praised both Prime Minister Khan and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and called on them to also re-open cross-border trade via Punjab.
India recently re-opened the Kartarpur corridor – closed due to the pandemic – and, apart from pilgrims, political leaders from Punjab have visited the gurudwara in Pakistan. Those visits prompted more controversy state after Mr Sidhu was excluded from a group led by Chief Minister Charanjit Channi.
Mr Sidhu and Mr Channi have strained ties, particularly after the former threatened to quit because he disagreed with the latter’s picks for Advocate General and police chief. After a period of sulking Mr Sidhu finally got his way yesterday with new appointments.
With input from ANI