Is Sidhu’s bizarre rendezvous in Pakistan a misdemeanour or downright folly?

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New Delhi:

Has Punjab Minister Navjot Singh Sidhu burnt his fingers during his last week’s visit to Pakistan to attend his cricketing days’ friend Imran Khan’s swearing-in ceremony as Prime Minister of the neighbouring country? Or, is it a misdemeanour for which the Congress Minister is being unduly castigated by the BJP besides being admonished by his Chief Minister Captain Amrinder Singh? In any case, the ace batsman of yesteryears looks to be somewhat stumped because of hugging Pakistan Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa during the ceremony in Islamabad while it was under the sharp gaze of cameras.

The visit though important has ended up in setting off a blame game back home where the BJP has been throwing barbs at the Congress by targetting Sidhu. This is so despite the fact that the Minister has been in the BJP until he crossed floor to join the Congress a little before last year’s Assembly polls in Punjab. And, thus, Captain Singh has stepped in with the possible intent to take some of the punch off the BJP attack on Sidhu and via him on the Congress.

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Significantly, during the run up to Gujarat polls held towards the end of last year, no less a person than the Prime Minister Narendra Modi had tried to mount a blistering attack on the Congress since one of its former Central ministers Mani Shankar Aiyer hosted a banquet for a former minister from Pakistan who was visiting India for the launch of his book.

The country is once again in election mode and the stakes are even higher this time than what the case was with last year’s Gujarat polls. And, thus, Sidhu has been treading in a ticklish arena when he visited Pakistan though the occasion was ceremonial rather than substantial. Normally, during such events the visitor deserves a few tips or may be a thorough briefing by the higher ups of the External Affairs Ministry back home and by the Indian mission on arrival in the host country. And it is a moot point how far the ministry in New Delhi and chancery in Islamabad had had briefed Sidhu to avoid a faux pas like the one that dogs him and his party even after his return from Pakistan.

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And as for the seating arrangement that had perched Sidhu right besides the president of Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir Masood Khan through the new Prime Minister Imran Khan’s swearing-in ideally should have been seen and approved by the Indian High Commission in Pakistan.

Obviously, this was not to be the case and, thus, a visit that should have been only a friendly rendezvous by Sidhu with his once cricket peer and may be chum has come to have political overtones. So much so that the BJP has smelt an opportunity to browbeat the Congress for Sidhu’s misdemeanour if not a downright folly.

In the past too, when the BJP was in the Opposition at the Centre, it took on the former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for signing a controversial joint-communiqué with Pakistan at Egyptian holiday resort Sharm-el-Sheikh during NAM, or Non-aligned summit held in 2009.

The communiqué had had provisions for Foreign Secretary-level talks between the two countries where among other things Singh’s Pakistani counterpart Yousaf Raza Gilani had mentioned “threat to Balochistan” as an area to be discussed by the two secretaries. This was meant to point a finger at India at a time when New Delhi wanted Islamabad to take on the Pakistani planners and perpetrators of Mumbai terror attack that took place in November 2008.

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Ever since the noises made by the BJP over the communiqué years went by without overcoming the chill besetting the relations between India and Pakistan and, thus, no meaningful Foreign Secretary level talks could be possible.

But when Modi took over the reins of the country a not so well-known RSS friendly gentleman as he is famous for being a Hindi newspaper columnist Ved Prakash Vaidik sprang a surprise by visiting Pakistan and meeting non-other but Hafiz Saeed who is known for his India bashing. The meeting that took place in Pakistan in 2014 and this was within a couple of months of Modi’s taking over as the prime minister.

Soon, the RSS defended Vaidik by saying that he was a patriot who went to Pakistan in national interest. The Indian Government tried to look the other way by saying that Vaidik was visiting Pakistan in his personal capacity and his moves had no official backing.

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Whatever may be the case Vaidik’s forays in Indo-Pak diplomacy is as riddled with doubts even now as it was four years ago or in 2014. And when the BJP points fingers at a person like Sidhu for what looks like to be inadvertently overt and may be overzealous show of courtesy on his part, the attention invariably goes to Vaidik’s unseemly date with Hafiz Saeed.

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