India is mourning the death of its former Prime Minister Sh. Atal Bihari Vajpayee, remembering his contribution towards formulating friendly relations with the neighbouring countries especially Pakistan. Vajpayee was so bent on improving relations between the two warring nations that despite Kargil War, Parliament Terrorist Attack and Plane Hijack, he kept the dialogue open.
Vajpayee is no more today and it seems ironic that the day after he was put to eternal rest, Pakistan was witnessing a change of government building hopes of friendly relations with India. The Prime Minister elect Imran Khan invited Navjot Singh Sidhu, a friend from his cricketing days, to his swearing-in ceremony. Sidhu, who like Imran is now in political arena, obliged and attended the ceremony. He was made to sit next to President of PoK Masood Khan and hugged the Pakistan Army Chief General Qamar Bajwa. This was enough to create an uproar on the Indian side.
Few of those celebrating Vajpayee’s contributions towards peace on the subcontinent took no time in labeling Sidhu an anti-national, deep in love with Pakistan. Apparently, the sources reveal that Sidhu was not aware of Masood’s identity until informed by an official of the Indian High Commission. But even if he had known his identity, how would he have objected to sitting next to Masood in Masood’s country surrounded by Masood’s people? One can only imagine! Maybe, those criticising Sidhu wanted him to do a rendition of Sunny Deol’s Gadar.
Another “crime” that Sidhu is accused of is hugging the Army Chief Bajwa. The Pakistan Army Chief asked Sidhu if the two sides could start an overland Sikh pilgrimage route between the two Punjab’s on the occasion of 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak next year and also mentioned desire to open route to Nankana Sahab – one of the many Sikh pilgrimages sites in Pakistani province of Punjab. An ecstatic Sidhu hugged him.
“This is someone who has been responsible for many innocents losing their lives in India and martyrs that we see among our armed forces. Is the Congress party in agreement with his actions. If not, then what action is it prepared to take against him and are they prepared to take action against him and are they prepared to suspend him from the party,” asked Sambit Patra, spokesperson of BJP.
One wonders whether Vajpayee would’ve been called anti-national for shaking hands with the then Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf, a month after the 2001 parliament attacks? Or should we call Narendra Modi an anti-national for hugging and wishing Nawaz Sharif a long life on his birthday by making a surprise visit to Lahore in 2015? Or when he invited Nawaz Sharif to his oath taking ceremony as Prime Minister of India. Aren’t Musharraf or Nawaz “responsible for many innocent losing their lives in India and martyrs that we see among our armed forces”?
War and hatred for each other is not a solution. Musharraf or Nawaz or Bajwa are equally responsible for bloodshed at the border but when someone comes forward with a message of peace, its common sense and courtesy to reciprocate. Internationally, people are awarded for their work towards a peaceful world but here in India we reward that effort rather differently. News reports claim that Bajrang Dal has offered a bounty of Rs 5 lakh for Sidhu’s head. So much in the name of peace!
Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan thanked Sidhu for coming and called him an “ambassador of peace”. “Those in India who targeted him are doing a great disservice to peace in the subcontinent – without peace our people cannot progress“, he tweeted. But this gesture from Khan will hardly satisfy BJP that has accused Sidhu for “trying to say that India doesn’t want peace and prosperity.”
Had Sidhu been a BJP member and not a Congressman, would Sambit Patra have reacted in the same manner? Had Imran Khan invited Narendra Modi, would he have not gone reciprocating the gesture by Nawaz Sharif who came to his swearing-in ceremony? Above all, what is wrong in reciprocating to a message of peace with a hug? Isn’t peace a step towards saving more lives on the border?
Veteran army officers on the other hand when approached by the Indian Express, came out in the support of Sidhu terming barbs being directed against him as “petty”. “I do no think he has done anything wrong. We must look at it from the macro level. By hugging, it does not mean that he has sold the country out.“, says Lt. General Depinder Singh(retd).
Another veteran, Lt General H S Panag(retd) said, “So what if he hugged the Pak Army Chief?…The right wing which is making all the noise because they know they do not have the capability of doing anything to Pakistan. I have attended seminars where retired Pakistani Army officers also come and we hug each other. It is a non-issue.“
It has become a trend these days to label everything anti-national be it a hug, book, movie or a call for peace. The relations between the two countries are so strained that a hug has created so much controversy. Indeed, peace is the ultimate solution but we have a long way to go because unless we don’t stop labeling every effort towards peace as anti-national, it will be hard task to achieve.