India’s cricketer-turned politician Navjot Sidhu on Tuesday (21) hit back at critics attacking him for hugging the army chief of rival Pakistan, saying he just got emotional.
A former Test opener, Sidhu crossed over to neighbouring Pakistan after being invited by his cricketer friend Imran Khan to the latter’s swearing-in ceremony as prime minister on Saturday.
Pictures of Sidhu hugging Pakistan army chief general Qamar Javed Bajwa and sharing the front row with the head of Pakistan-administered Kashmir Masood Khan were splashed all over Indian media.
The images were ceased up by opposition leaders who called Sidhu’s actions shameful and accused him of compromising the nation’s dignity.
The chief minister of northern Punjab state where Sidhu is a minister said it was wrong of his cabinet colleague to show affection for the army chief when “Indian soldiers were being killed everyday”.
The Himalayan region of Kashmir is at the heart of the decades long conflict between the nuclear-armed foes, with both sides laying claim to the conflict-riven territory.
Ties, including sports and cultural contacts, plummeted after the 2008 militant attacks in Mumbai, which New Delhi blames on Pakistani militant groups.
Sidhu, 54, said he could not control his emotions after Bajwa said he wanted peace and that he was considering opening a corridor from India to a historic Sikh pilgrimage site in Pakistan.
“For me this was a very emotional moment and there was a feeling of affection. After that brief moment, there was no meeting (between us),” Sidhu told reporters.
“It just lasted a minute maybe. So I am sad and there is a bit of disappointment on this front.”
Imran Khan too batted for Sidhu while thanking him for making the trip.
“He was an ambassador of peace & was given amazing love & affection by ppl of Pakistan,” Khan tweeted on Tuesday.
“Those in India who targeted him are doing a gt disservice to peace in the subcontinent – without peace our ppl cannot progress.”
A doughty opening batsman, Sidhu is remembered for famously hitting Shane Warne to all corners at the start of the great Australian spinner’s Test career.
With his razor-sharp wit and colourful turbans — usually paired with a matching blazer-pocket handkerchief — Sidhu forged a successful career as a pundit after retirement before also becoming a gameshow host.