Sidhu in Pakistan: will “thoko tali”

Cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu on Friday preferred to cross the border to attend Pakistan cricket legend and his “friend” Imran Khan’s swearing-in ceremony, to be held on Saturday, over paying last tributes to his “mentor” in politics Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

All enthused, Sidhu, the Local Government Minister in the Congress Government in Punjab, crossed the Indo-Pak border at Wagah in the afternoon, when the nation was biding a final adieu to its “most loved” Prime Minister.

Not only the leaders from across the parties, but representatives from India’s neighbouring nations including Pakistan, Sri Lanka, have converged in the national capital to attend Vajpayee’s last rites.

But before leaving for Lahore, he did not forget to offer his condolences on Vajpayee’s death. “I had spiritual relations with Vajpayee sahib. Cutting across party lines, there is respect for this wonderful statesman. He elevated the BJP party from mere two seats to the majority. His demise is an irreparable loss for all of us. Vajpayee sahib will be remembered as an institution,” he said.

In an interview, Sidhu had once revealed that he had contested and won in Amritsar in 2004 Lok Sabha elections at 14 days’ notice on receiving a phone call from Vajpayee.

Sidhu, who was more than excited to attend Imran’s swearing-in, considered himself “fortunate to have a chance to be a conduit between both India and Pakistan to ease the tension and will try to work towards strengthening the trade and cultural ties between the two nations”.

For the occasion, Sidhu has got arranged a special ‘Pashmina shawl’ for Imran as a gift. “I am excited to meet my dear friend with whom I shared relationship for the past 35 years,” he said adding that since “I am representing India, this gesture is on behalf of India for Imran.”

After getting mandatory clearance from the Union Ministry of External Affairs, Sidhu was overwhelmed to receive a call from the External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj. “Being a law abiding citizen, I am very disciplined when it comes to the norms of a nation. I waited for clearance of my Pakistan visit. I was surprised when madam Sushma called me personally to intimate that the requisite clearance has been granted,” he said.

Sidhu has got 15-day visa for Lahore and Islamabad. Sources revealed that he will be meeting Khan on Friday night.

Earlier, Sidhu had hailed the Pak Prime Minister designate as a “man of character” and hoped that he would mend relations between the two countries.

“Men of genius are admired, men of power are feared, but men of character are trusted. Khan Sahab is a man of character. He can be trusted. Sportsmen build bridges, break barriers, unite people,” he had said.

However, Sidhu’s decision to attend Imran’s swearing-in has attracted criticism from Shiv Sena, and also from BJP senior leader Subramanium Swamy who said that the former cricketer “is “not mentally stable”, and SAD president Sukhbir Badal who advised him “to stay back in Pakistan only”.

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