NEW DELHI: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday congratulated Imran Khan on becoming Pakistan’s premier.
In a letter to his counterpart, Modi expressed the need for constructive and meaningful bilateral engagement.
He also expressed his commitment to peaceful, neighborly relations, and stressed the need for a terror-free South Asia.
But Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) criticized Indian politician Navjot Singh Sidhu for visiting Islamabad to participate in Khan’s swearing-in ceremony.
The BJP demanded Sidhu’s sacking from the post of Cabinet minister in Punjab province, and asked the opposition Congress Party to “sack him from the party for hugging” Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa, the Pakistani Army chief.
The hug “is not an ordinary thing,” said BJP spokesman Sambit Patra, adding that Sidhu “is not an ordinary man but a minister in the Punjab government, and every Indian has taken this issue very seriously.”
Sidiq Wahid, a Kashmiri scholar and senior fellow at the Centre for Policy Research in New Delhi, told Arab News: “The muscular nationalism practiced by the Hindu right-wing BJP treats other nationalists as the enemy.”
He said: “I see hope for meaningful talks with Pakistan only when there’s a dramatic change in the current trajectory of Indian politics.”
When contacted by Arab News, Sidhu declined to comment, but upon his return to India he said: “I pray for the people who criticized me, but I felt too much love and affection from Pakistan when I was there.”
Vinod Sharma, political editor of the Hindustan Times, told Arab News that “it’s unbecoming of a mature democracy” to raise the issue of Sidhu visiting and hugging Bajwa.
“India isn’t that weak as to not let an Indian be hugged by the Pakistani Army chief. The paranoia of the right-wing fringe is a gross misrepresentation of a great democracy that India happens to be,” Sharma said.
“The Hindu right wing is adept at creating India-Pakistan, Hindu-Muslim binaries for political-electoral gains,” he added.
“It’s a dangerous game, and in the name of defending India they’re hurting its time-tested, inclusive character.”
But Robin Singh, a Punjab-based journalist and civil rights activist, said: “Sidhu crossed his brief while visiting Pakistan. He forgot that he is a public representative, and should have kept in mind the troubled relationship between India and Pakistan. By hugging the army chief, he has hurt the sentiment of people in India.”
The Congress Party has refused to comment on the issue, terming it “a personal visit of Sidhu to meet his friend.”
Sharma said this “polarizing debate is disturbing and aimed at sheer electoral dividends,” blaming “a section of the Indian media for the propagation of binaries to enhance their market share.”
He added: “It’s a self-defeating pursuit as it doesn’t leave the audience educated on complex foreign policy issues.”