Navjot Singh Sidhu’s visit to Pakistan earlier this month to attend the swearing-in ceremony of Prime Minister Imran Khan did not go down well in India even though he received a lot of warmth in Pakistan from officials and the commoners on the street. This always fills me with the hope that despite the divisive rhetoric of politicians and media, particularly from India, the people of the two countries have a strong capacity to form mutual bonds of affection and cordiality. Imran Khan’s support to Sidhu describing him as an ambassador for peace was the best reaction to the toxic hatred emanating against Sidhu. Pakistan’s new prime minister also offered balanced comments about the need for constructive engagement between the neighbours to approach all problems including Kashmir.
The smiling sardarji, who is also a minister in the Congress-led government in Punjab, interacted with the Pakistan Army Chief Qamar Javed Bajwa in front of cameras broadcasting live. Both the Punjabis looked quite relaxed and when their brief conversation ended with a warm hug, it provoked a fury of hate and contempt in India; everyone from politicians to extremists and seemingly anonymous social media trolls started to bay for Sidhu’s blood. BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra’s declaration that Sidhu’s “going to Pakistan was against the ethos of India” is extremely worrisome as this suggests that the BJP will continue to advance its rhetoric of hate for political gains. Patra also blamed Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi for trying to run a parallel government and opening a Pakistan desk in India, a charge that is a deliberate attempt to discourage any positive engagement with Pakistan in the future. The Sidhu episode clearly demonstrates the malaise that dogs the India-Pakistan relationship in its current iteration. The two countries, despite the oft-advanced claims of coming from the same socio-cultural stock, have so drifted apart in their political culture and social behaviour that any hope for rapprochement sounds wildly fanciful.
Sidhu’s immediate boss and Punjab Chief Minister, Captain (Retd) Amarinder Singh, has also joined the bandwagon of loathing, and criticised him for the hug, saying it was wrong for Sidhu “to have shown the affection [that] he did to the Pakistan Army Chief”. Earlier, Amarinder Singh had tweeted that the hug was “not a nice gesture and was completely avoidable”. Incidentally, Shobhaa De, a well-known author and commentator called out Singh for what she termed hypocrisy for the chief minister has been living with Aroosa Alam, daughter of infamous Pakistani courtesan Aqleem Akhtar, popularly known as General Rani, for her close, carnal relationship with former Pakistani dictator General Yahya Khan. De observed that Alam lives with Singh “as the chief minister’s long-term partner from across the border”. She asked, in a rather blunt tone: “The big question then, in today’s context, is: What role does Aroosa Begum play in Punjab politics? Or should we generously say she is nothing more than the chief minister’s adored one? The lady who campaigns for him and is regarded as his wife (she resides in his official residence), for all practical purposes? How can the Captain object to Navjot Sidhu’s public hug when an ambitious lady who still holds a Pakistani passport is an inseparable part of his political and personal life?”
What is intriguing is that while Sidhu continues to be pilloried for his ‘treason’ and ‘sedition’, India and Pakistan military troops are taking part in a multi-nation ‘Peace Mission 2018’ drill in Russia as part of counter-terrorism war games under the aegis of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO). An Indian army spokesman, Col. Aman Anand, described the exercises as an “opportunity to the armed forces of SCO nations to train in counter-terrorism operations in an urban scenario in a multi-national and joint environment”. So far, thankfully, there are no sedition allegations against Col. Anand!
(Murtaza Shibli tweets @murtaza_shibli)
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